NHL Outdoors Was Great, Don’t Expect It Again for a Bit

The Lake Tahoe games happened. Aside from the sun being the mortal enemy of ice on Saturday– you’d have to say it was ultimately a success. The sights, the sounds, the kayaks– all of it was solid for the viewing public. That was ultimately ruined by Rutledge Wood, but we take what we can get with NBC’s budget on hockey for sideline reporters. It was super enjoyable, especially in a year we didn’t think an outdoor game would happen.

Odds are we won’t be seeing that for a good while.

With this “NHL Outdoors” branding, there are four different outdoor games that can occur now: Outdoors, Heritage Classic, Winter Classic, and Stadium Series. The only one that you can’t utilize in a league that needs all the money it can muster is the Outdoors concept. The rest of those are in over-capacity venues that will provide solid revenue for the league, while this Outdoors concept seems to be the one that is where there’s little to no fans. That way, the ad wizards at the TV license holder can pat themselves on the back when they keep using the ideal of “taking the game back to its origin” and remind us of all the players starting out on the pond playing hockey.

There’s a good chance that next season, we’ll have PLENTY of outdoors games– assuming people will be let into buildings to watch sporting events. When the NHL had the shortened 2012-13 season, they made up for the lost half-season by holding six outdoor games the next year and made some good cash off of that to put into the Hockey Related Revenue. For some reason, I could imagine that number at least doubling because of all the lost revenue from the pandemic not allowing capacity crowds into the buildings. They need to start to break even some how.

Which is why the Outdoors idea will only come into play when the league has the money it need and has a setting and teams that are remote enough that little to no fans will be in. We’ve joked on the Face Off Hockey Show about the idea of the league putting the game on an aircraft carrier like the NCAA did with the Carrier Classic or the WWE did with trying to slam Yokozuna. I mean, if they can make ice anywhere, the aircraft carrier is far too perfect, while also serving their want/need to hold games at military venues as they did at the Air Force Academy and Naval Academy.

Everything was perfect for this event to take play and give a way to have an outdoor game in a pandemic. But it’s only because they couldn’t have fans anyway and the golf courses weren’t actively being used in February. Just don’t be surprised when it doesn’t happen for another five years or so and everything is stabilized. Then you can have stories of how people tried to break into the closed event.

Heritage Classic: Battle of Atlanta THIS WEEKEND

Infograph via 16Wins.com

If you were under a rock, you may not have known that the Heritage Classic is taking place in Regina, Saskatchewan this Saturday. Well…maybe not under a rock. The hype for the Heritage Classic by the NHL hasn’t been that wide-spread. Sure, they’re keeping a player diary of the event, but outside of that– there’s nothing on their front page about the game that’s supposed to be part of their bigger series of outdoor games throughout the year.

Honestly, maybe there’s more of a spark when it comes to the event I’m not seeing being in the upper Midwest of the US. However– even on Sportsnet, their front page has nothing special about the game going on as of October 23th at 10:20 PM CT (time of this writing). When your national media partner doesn’t seem to have an interest in promoting it ahead of time; that may be a bit of a red flag for some people.

Yet, this game is a big outlier– as it’s a neutral site game in a predominantly junior hockey area, hoping there’s enough interest in the game from that region that they don’t have to rely on people from Calgary or Winnipeg to venture out and see this event. It doesn’t look like the case, as according to StubHub (again, as of 10:20 PM CT on 10/23), there’s around 2,100 tickets left for the game that’s happening in a couple days. That either shows that the NHL, the teams, and the location aren’t marketing it well or the idea of this game is slowly dying into another thing taken for granted. Or the location of this game isn’t in a great area.

The fact that the main page of the league isn’t promoting an alleged special game is pretty criminal. You’d think for something like this, they’d actually want to try to make their money back for renting out this venue for the event and everything surrounding it. Maybe they were taking Canadian fans for granted when it comes to these games, maybe it was a bad place to have it, maybe it’s just a dying genre. Regardless of the excuse, the fact remains that when an event like this has this little promotion and this many tickets left when it’s a couple days away…not a great look.

It Should Have Been the Battle of Atlanta

Though I know it was a long-shot because it would have been funny, the NHL Media website pretty much shuts down the official idea of having the Battle of Atlanta, as they revealed the logos for the Heritage Classic in an email for accreditation. The logos of the Jets looks like one they had for the Heritage Classic in 2016, while the Flames look like a take of their original uniforms as the moved from Atlanta. Of course, we got a hint of what the Jets were doing when Connor Hellebuyck donned a retro mask for pre-training camp in Winnipeg.

What could have been with the Atlanta Thrashers and Atlanta Flames coming back to life again in, of all places, Regina, Saskatchewan.

While we won’t know the actual Jets uniforms until September 13th when they’ll officially unveil their duds for the event, you look at the Jets jersey history– even with the original team; the pickings are very slim. When you look at the Flames, who have yet to set a date for their jersey reveal, the pickings are as slim– though plenty gaudy. Hell, the Flames needed to make up a jersey for their outdoor game in 2011 from a Calgary team few knew about.

Thus is the issue with teams that are in these games and want to do something special for their jerseys– but have a limited palette to choose from when it comes time. The Blackhawks ran out of idea, the Canadiens only have limited options, as do many of the “Original” Six teams. Then you have teams that don’t have a lot of old jerseys– like the Jets, Flames, and Capitals– and have to model some kind of faux-retro to go along with the idea of the game. Which is what’s going to make the Winter Classic jerseys interesting with Dallas and Nashville not being known for their jersey history.

Part of that is the reason why I suggested it becoming the Battle of Atlanta. I mean, sure– it helps that both teams defected from Georgia to move to Canada, but at the same time– it’d be a different jersey take than we may have expected. Plus, it would annoy Canadians who believe they are gatekeepers to hockey and all that it means to people. Plus, it’s about fun, right?? What’s more fun than to bring back two old teams and their jerseys for a night?? People want all kinds of old jerseys back– so here’s a perfect chance to do it.

But the NHL botched it. The teams botched. Now, we have to be subjected to recycled jersey concepts and act like we are happy about seeing something we’ve seen before– like the Blackhawks in an outdoor game.

My Wishes for the Battle of Atlanta in Regina

We all know this won’t happen. The NHL won’t let this happen. The Winnipeg Jets won’t let this happen. But I want the #BattleOfAtlanta to go down in a big, big was in October for the Heritage Classic game in Regina between the Flames and Jets.

Both teams are formerly of Atlanta. The real issue stems with one team actually caring about their heritage, whereas the other wants to think this is a Cleveland Browns situations– in that they keep the records of the team that relocated.

Word to the wise– the Winnipeg Jets are the Atlanta Thrashers and hold all the Atlanta Thrashers records. The franchise leader in points for the Winnipeg Jets is Ilya Kovalchuk with 615 points. Dany Heatley holds the record for goals and points by a rookie. These are Winnipeg Jets legends by proxy. Dale Hawerchuk, Bob Essensa, Teemu Selanne– all those records belong to the Arizona Coyotes. Even dumb, idiot, blowhard bloggers from six years ago say the Jets are the Thrashers.

Okay– with that all out of the way: the only way to play this is to have the Flames wear the classic Atlanta Flames jerseys. They already have the template with their third jerseys and with this game being about Heritage…it only makes sense. Like I said before, the Flames incorporated their Atlanta roots many times, including putting the old logo as an alternate captain letter.

Powder blue is something that the Jets should wear as the Thrashers– it would help that color clash people enjoy. Plus, they already incorporate that in their alternate jerseys now– which is a nice step for them bringing back the Thrashers garb for one night only.

(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Musical act is Lil’ Jon– point blank period. Not because he’s an Atlanta guy, but it’s because he’s someone who has held the torch for Atlanta hockey since the Flames played at the Omni. He was a great ambassador for the Thrashers and really help bring more pop culture into the game when it was looking for it. So much impact that Kari Lehtonen put him on the back of his mask.

So it’s set– this is what it should be, especially if we’re talking about a HERITAGE CLASSIC. Before you get where you’re going, you’ve gotta know where you’ve been. That’s what it’s all about– knowing both teams came from Atlanta to Canada in different generations. Time to mesh them.

And honestly– to the people who might be butt-hurt over this (probably Jets fans who are defensive of their identity and want to believe 1996-2011 didn’t happen); if you liked the Hurricanes becoming the Whalers for one night– why can’t you enjoy the Jets becoming the Thrashers for one night?? It’s all in the name of fun, right?? All the nostalgia is great right??

You might not like it, but I’m sure there’s a lot more people who would. It’s the history of the team and regardless of what you try– it’s not going away. Preserve history rather than put it under the rug and then you can enjoy things rather than being overly uptight.

#BattleOfAtlanta

Battle of Atlanta Kicks Off Specialty Games for 2019-20

In light of another Chicago Blackhawks outdoor game, the NHL revealed locations for some of their specialty games coming up for the 2019-20 season.

First, the Heritage Classic will come back and take place in Regina, Saskatchewan on October 26. In what I’ll be calling “The Battle of Atlanta” the former Atlanta Flames will take on the former Atlanta Thrashers– with the Calgary Flames taking on the Winnipeg Jets. It’ll be the fifth Heritage Classic and first since 2016 in Winnipeg. With both teams on the rise in their divisions, it should prove to be an interesting match-up, especially early in the season.

Second, the NHL put forth next year’s Winter Classic, but this time in Dallas’s Cotton Bowl, as the Dallas Stars will host and unnamed opponent– which, if it’s not the Minnesota Wild, it’ll be a huge narrative disrupting event. Surprising that it’s not being held in JerryWorld at AT&T Stadium, as it would go with the NHL wanting a big venue for these events.

St. Louis will be the 2020 All-Star Game host for the third time (1970 and 1988 being the prior ones) through the weekend of January 24th until the 26th. We’ll be waiting with bated-breathe to see if Nelly and the St. Lunatics show up with Fred Brathwaite like they did in the “Welcome to Atlanta” remix.

Finally, the NHL also announced another Stadium Series game at a military academy, with the Colorado Avalanche hosting a game at the Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium. Another game with no opponent, but hopefully the NHL will keep getting closer and closer to their goal of holding a game at West Point after going through two other military academies already.

Is there one better than the other?? Do you even care about the amount of outdoor games anymore?? Leave a comment or something to let me know….or don’t, I get paid the same either way.

Darlington: NASCAR’s Winter Classic

2017-Monster-Energy-NASCAR-Cup-Series-Bojangles_-Southern-500-ticket

It’s Darlington weekend coming up in NASCAR, which means the most gimmicky regular season race is happening in full-force. To appeal to the nostalgia crowd, Darlington Speedway decided that since NASCAR moved the Southern 500 back to Labor Day weekend; they would make it a “Throwback Weekend” where drivers and teams alike can really get into the old-time racing attitude and have fun with their paint schemes and their look and really by into that “Good Ol’ Boy” mentality that some think the modern NASCAR has been missing.

While it has been great to see the old paint schemes from yesteryear, the tributes to lesser known racers, the old-time broadcast effects, and the antics that the drivers put on; it’s still getting very, very stale very, very quickly. In fact, a lot of the teams aren’t trying anymore. There’s three cars this Sunday that look like they have the exact same red-white-and-blue scheme (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.Danica PatrickClint Bowyer), the #3 and #31 have just about the same paint scheme, and like always– the #43 is going to have a Richard Petty STP scheme on the track.

The Darlington Weekend is becoming like the NHL’s Winter Classic in some aspects. While the heart is in the right place for a different kind of feel, as it keeps going year-after-year, the whole vibe to the thing wears off. We all know who’s going to be there, you can be assured of what they’ll look like, and while it’s well-hyped– it comes off very “meh” by the end of it.

When the NHL starting doing their annual Winter Classic in 2008 (there was a one-off outdoor game in 2003 which started the wheels in motion for this), it was a great hype vehicle. It allowed for the NHL to go to historic venues of other sports to play their game and get a ton of revenue through ticket sales and merchandise. However, the biggest problem was over-saturating the market when the formula worked. Once they saw the Winter Classic work, they moved to a Stadium Series of multiple outdoor games, the Heritage Classic games in Canada, then when those faded– they started using the teams that people would watch and make the other fans annoyed with a team like the Chicago Blackhawks getting into all the outdoor games.

The NHL lost the plot because they killed a golden goose.

Yes, other markets wanted games, but you can’t blow the wad of outdoor games as quickly as the NHL has seemingly done. Hell, in 2014 alone they had six outdoor games. Last season, the NHL had four outdoor games– but I bet people maybe remember one. Sure, they have gone to places like Wrigley Field, the Big House in Michigan, and Fenway Park; but they’ve also played in BMO Field (Toronto), Investors Group Field (Winnipeg), and Levi’s Stadium.

While this race only happens in Darlington, the drivers and teams are going to the well too many times with the same thing. Not only the Richard Petty STP scheme, but the #13 always going with the Smokey Yunick scheme, and RCR going with some sort of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. scheme. The originality is starting to fade and there’s not much they can do to regulate it– unless they just kill the idea altogether– which they won’t do because then they can’t exploit it.

For this Darlington race, at least, it could be a tool to distract fans from realizing how much NASCAR has bungled this season with the segments, the mismanagement of how points are distributed through said segments, and just the overall lack of hype for the new ideas that NASCAR has tried to instill with their “activation” with Monster Energy. The sanctioning body is a detriment to themselves and the sport. Darlington Weekend is a passing fad that seems to be getting less and less interesting by the year due to the fact we’ve seen it all before and nothing really changes but the looks of the cars.