As we close out October and welcome November, we wonder what these next few days will bring with regards to the NHL lockout.
With pre-season games long gone, followed by regular season games in October and November, can the outdoor game between Toronto and Detroit be far behind? Well, it appears we will know that answer by the end of the week. How deep of a cut will the next announcement be is the question? Are we looking at just the outdoor game, or will the NHL decide to pull the plug on the All-Star game in Columbus, and perhaps even the remainder of the season.
The outdoor game is an enormous, big dollar project. A big dollar project from both the revenue side, AND the expense side, let alone the work that goes into preparing and carrying out the event. The next payment to the University of Michigan is due Friday, a payment of $250,000. After that, a million is due December 7. Short term the NHL does not make a whole lot of money from the outdoor game, the expenses are just too high. However, long term the event is a critical revenue and fan generator. It not only attracts sponsors, but attracts million of viewers that become fans of the game. Will the importance of this game play a part in what the NHL and the NHLPA do this week.
The NHL hit the jackpot in 2008 with the outdoor game in Buffalo. In 2003 the Edmonton Oilers played host to Montreal in an outdoor game that was played on a very cold Alberta day. In Buffalo the Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins played on a day that ended with snow falling, over 70,000 fans in attendance, and millions watching on television and listening on radio. The icing on the cake was the falling snow, along with the game going to a shootout with one of the NHL's stars, Sidney Crosby ending it. People that were flipping channels talked about simply not being able to leave "the game." Casual hockey fans were glued to their televisions, these players skating through the falling snow flakes, with smiles on their faces playing the game they love.
What will be a huge direct dollar hit, will be the loss of the all-star game. The Columbus Blue Jackets and the city of Columbus will lose millions if the all-star game is cancelled, this, in a market that is already being hurt by not having the Jackets on the ice. The trade of Rick Nash created a buzz in that city, the hiring of John Davidson created a bigger buzz. The all-star game would be the cherry on the cake.
Easier said than done, but perhaps it's time for a secret ballot. ALL players vote on whether immediate 50/50 without "make whole" is acceptable, ALL the owners whether eventual 50/50 with "make whole" is acceptable. Secret ballot because there are people on both sides afraid to speak freely.
So let's change gears and flash back a year. At the end of October last season the Winnipeg Jets had played 11 games. The excitement of opening day was gone and after a 0-3 start the Jets picked up their first win with a 2-1 home ice decision over Pittsburgh. Kyle Wellwood scored eight seconds into the game, Tanner Glass had the other goal, also in the first period. Two nights later in Toronto, Jets fans were treated to their first shootout, as the Jets could not hold onto a 3-1 second period lead, losing 4-3 in a game where rookie Mark Scheifele scored his first NHL goal. The Jets first road win (we all remember this game, an early classic for TSN Jets) came in Philadelphia, a 9-8 final. The Jets lead 5-1 early in the second, and 6-4 after two periods. Three straight Flyer goals in 1:53 early in the third and the Jets trailed by one, but two goals in 1:01 had them in the lead. In total five goals were scored in 3:22, all in the first 4:31 of the third. Flyers did tie the game once more before Andrew Ladd scored the winner with 1:06 left in regulation. A game that had the entire NHL talking.
What a difference a year makes. For fans in Winnipeg, this lockout, for a couple of reasons, really hurts. They were not in the NHL for the last work stoppage, and they waited 15 years for the NHL to return to their city. A return they embraced, only to have it, (at least for now), taken away from them.