In his latest column, further pushing the stagnant marketing strategy of individualization of hockey, Scott Burnside of ESPN made it perfectly clear that he believes the Washington Capitals Alexander Ovechkin should be involved in the Winter Classic in place of the Philadelphia Flyers. And even though Burnside is just trying to grow the game, albeit with a strategy that has clearly maxed out its potential, he’s still simply wrong.
Since the lockout, the NHL has been shoving two players from non-traditional markets in the faces of every hockey fan or potential hockey fan in North America. And no matter how many Hart Trophies Alex Ovechkin wins or if Sidney Crosby is the youngest captain ever to win the Stanley Cup, the NHL is not much better off than it was after the lockout. National ratings are creeping up but not thriving to the levels they reached in the early 90’s. Teams are still going out of business and fans outside of Washington and Pittsburgh have a never-ending laundry list of gripes about how the league is run.
The fact that NBC forced the NHL’s hand in selecting the Flyers over Ovechkin and the Caps, is saying something and it’s saying it loud. NBC stated that despite how incredible and superb the NHL tells its fans Ovechkin is, the fact of the matter is no one really tunes in. And there is a reason for that other than Washington being a small market.
The NHL has had legendary talent come through its ranks over the years, including Ovechkin, who is a phenomenal player on a good team. But the game has never been about the individuals, it’s been about the teams. It’s been about the the Oilers of the 80’s and the Canadiens’ dynasties. It’s been about the Rangers in ’94 and Detroit’s Swedish dominance at the turn of the century. Sure, there were stars, but the people remember the teams more than anything. And now, the Winter Classic has returned to those classic days, with the Broad Street Bullies and the Big Bad Bruins.
“Someone ought to send those decision-makers video of some of Ovechkin’s many highlight-reel goals.” Burnside wrote, as a reason for NBC to want the Caps.
But is that really what the people want? An Ovechkin highlight show? The Classic will sell out and its ratings will skyrocket regardless of which teams play. So why the need for a gimmick on top of a gimmick? If the league wants to give the casual hockey-watching public a taste of the sport, there is nothing better than giving two tough, up-and-coming teams, who do not like each other, a chance to hash things out while the snow falls on New Year’s day.
The league should be promoting old rivalries and hockey that is taken personal. Not who can score more 5-on-3 goals.
With NBC now obviously controlling the competition at the Winter Classic, for the good of the league, the event should stay classic. By not just playing outdoors, but by celebrating the style of play that got real fans into the game to begin with.