The Blackhawks and the Wings at the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in Chicago was a big hit. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
The NHL Winter Classic in Las Vegas? Of all the ideas in the history of mankind, this is one of them.
It’s just not a good one.
The league has developed and nurtured a special, winning event rooted in hockey’s tradition. It’s about being outside in the cold, wrapped in parkas, scarves and toques and trying to stay warm with hot chocolate, coffee or whatever beverage you can sneak into the park.
It’s about gently falling snow, or bone-chilling arctic winds, evoking childhood memories of numb fingers and frost-bitten toes. It’s about reminiscing. And it’s also about generating a buzz in one of the existing 30 NHL markets.
Las Vegas fits none of the criteria.
The extravaganzas worked so well in Buffalo and Chicago (and Edmonton in the Heritage Classic) because they’re cold-weather cities with long hockey backgrounds. The venues, Ralph Wilson Stadium and Wrigley Field, hold special places in the hearts of the natives. It’s the holiday break period and it’s all feel-good.
If I’m a fan of the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs or any of the other anchor franchises, I’d be sour if Vegas scored this show ahead of my team. I’ve paid my dues and my dollars over decades, how about some payback?
Moreover, the NHL has tried the neutral site route and the results have been mediocre-to-uninspiring. The games in the early-1990s – held in places such as Sacramento, Halifax, Cincinnati and Cleveland – underwhelmed. While I understand the business rationale behind starting regular seasons in Europe, those contests don’t capture the imagination, either.
Passion and partisanship are at the core of any good sports event. The more emotionally invested you are the more extreme the experience. Vegas would attract some real fans of whatever teams are involved, but many would be there purely for the spectacle, not caring about the outcome. That’s not a winning recipe.
I attended the Buffalo Bills-Miami Dolphins NHL game at Toronto’s Rogers Centre a couple months ago and it was severely lacking in atmosphere. The contest was a virtual sellout and the setting was pleasant, but the vibe was as flat as the field. It’s not an indictment of Toronto’s NFL fertility – I’m confident a franchise here would be a great success – but without a cheering interest, it was tame.
A Winter Classic at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena isn’t ideal, either, but I could live with it. At least it’s within striking distance of Los Angeles. And Yankee Stadium, pardon the pun, is a natural.
But Vegas? That has sucker’s bet written all over it.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every Friday.
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