Let me preface this post by saying that I am huge hockey fan. I love the sport and never grow tired of it. But why is NHL hockey still being played in the middle of June? On the East Coast, summer is in full force and most people are thinking about swimming in a pool of cool water on a hot, sunny day, not bundling up to go inside an arena and watch a game played on ice. I am enjoying watching the Stanley Cup finals (Go Kings!) and maybe I would feel differently if my Flyers were still playing right now, but I am ready for this season to be over. Let’s crown the Cup champion, get ready for the upcoming draft, then start getting excited about next season (which begins in a mere three months).
My theory is that the NHL does not understand the concept of “too much of a good thing.” Take the Winter Classic as an example. Playing an NHL game in the middle of winter on an outdoor rink in a football or baseball stadium was a brilliant idea. And it was special….when there was only one Winter Classic game per season. I was at the WC in Citizens Bank Park in Philly on January 2, 2012. It was an amazing experience at such a festive time of year. Now, I imagine that most fans barely blinked an eye as the NHL played five outdoor games during the 2013-14 season: one Winter Classic game and four games during the Stadium Series. My feeling is that too many outdoor games take away the novelty and make the games seem ordinary, unlike those first WC games that seemed so magical.
When if comes to the Stanley Cup playoffs, I have no problem with the number of teams that make the playoffs. I say, keep the number of playoff rounds the same, but make the playoff series best-of-five instead of best-of-seven. Other sports leagues (such as the NFL) have one-game playoffs, so does the NHL really need best-of-seven playoff series? I am not claiming to have done any kind of real math here, but I would imagine that best-of-five instead of best-of-seven series would knock at least a few weeks off of the playoffs, having them perhaps end before the official beginning of summer.
But no matter how logical it seems (at least to me) that a shorter NHL season would be a better NHL season, I know that this will never happen because of one thing: $$$. The NHL knows that it has probably the most passionate and loyal fans in professional sports. We may not be as numerous as NFL fans, but we love our teams, know our sport well, and are willing to pay lots of bucks to attend games and buy merchandise…over and over again. I heard that some NHL fans discussed boycotting the first few NHL games played after the 2012-13 lockout was over, but I did not see evidence that attendance suffered at any of those first NHL games in 2013. Why? Because we are die hard fans of the sport no matter what and were out of our minds without hockey and could not wait to see the NHL play again. I know that I would not have agreed to boycott that first Flyers game that year.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are amazing and one-of-a-kind. The level of play and intensity could not be higher, and it seems (at least this year) that the team matchups have been very good and even. I was at Game 3 (the Flyers’ first home game) of the Flyers/Rangers series this past April. It was my first playoff game and it was an amazing experience after having supported the Flyers all season, wondering if they would even make the playoffs after their disappointing start to the season. The Flyers lost that playoff game (and went on to lose the series), but it was a night to remember. I have never heard Wells Fargo Center that loud….or seen it that orange. But it seemed weird to be going to a hockey game on a sunny, 70-degree day. And now it seems even more strange that the playoffs continue almost two months later. I hope that the Kings take it in four so that I can focus on attending the draft and getting hyped up about the 2014-15 NHL season.