Chicago, IL — Yesterday a media press conference was held and for those who have NHLNetwork or could stream on NHL.com were also lucky enough to hear Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and players — Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks, Anze Kopitar, LA Kings & Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins make the several announcements impacting the league for years to come.
The Commissioner started with the announcement of the outdoor games for 2016 which, we all knew ahead of time thanks to the power of social media. If you missed it the Winter Classic will be between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadians at Gillette Stadium near Boston. Then there is two Stadium series games one to be held on 2/21/16 in Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium between the Wild and the Chicago Blackhawks and finally a third game on 2/27/16 at Coors Field between the Colorado Avalanche and the Detroit Red Wings.
Ironically it was a beat writer from the Chicago media that asked the Commissioner about being concerned with overkill with the Chicago Blackhawks being in so many outdoor games and unfairness to other teams in the league. Luckily Commissioner Bettman is a smart man and knows when to ride a winning hand. I have to give the Commissioner his due on how he addressed the insanely unintelligent question he was posed.
To that reporter I would say, sports is not about local media, it is about the players and the fans not you, and who said life is fair anyway. First off the players love playing outdoors and you have a great team in the Chicago Blackhawks that are easily marketed and a great fan base that wants to attend these events and will travel and pump life into other economies. The league has done it’s research and all the fan polls I’ve seen people love these outdoor games.
Now, Minnesota may not need the Chicago Blackhawks money but towns like St. Louis and Nashville and yes Arizona could use it so there is that. Let us not forget as well Chicago Blackhawks fans will buy, buy, buy which puts more money in the NHL coffers which is a huge financial consideration and then there is the broadcasting draw. Let’s face it Chicago brings in more viewers than sorry Dallas, St. Louis and Nashville which is simply the truth.
The NHL is a business that is trying to make money and get as much fan interest as possible a game between the Wild and the Hawks let’s face it, is far more entertaining due to the recent playoff history of these two clubs, than say the Wild vs the Blues or Predators or Stars for that matter. Sometimes I wonder if reporters even watch NHL games other than the team they are covering but I digress.
The trek from Chicago to Minnesota is not that far and lets face it tons of Blackhawks fans will go and that is a consideration for the league as well. Now there were some Blackhawks fans objects on twitter to those fans I would say don’t go, don’t watch and don’t buy if you really object that much to the Blackhawks constantly being in these outdoor games. Keep in mind however if you are a fan of this team, the players want to play and the organization as a whole as the Commissioner pointed out wants to be involved. I also suspect those fans complaining the most will be the first to buy a ticket to this event and get some jerseys as well.
World Cup returns
In September of 2016 for 9/17 to approx 10/1 the NHL World Cup is returning with eight teams involved. There is the usual six teams of the US, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic but the other two teams will be a European team comprised mainly of NHL players that would not fall within the other six teams. What I found really intriguing is the final team which will be a team of players under age 23 from the US and Canada.
This under 23 team will have the likes of Brandon Saad, Nathan McKinnon, Seth Jones, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel on it potentially to name a few. As Patrick Kane said this is a young man’s game so what they lack in experience they may make up in speed. The only concern here is that team USA maybe hurt the most by this but as the Commissioner stated this is a work in progress. It is also a way to showcase the young talent in the league or that will be coming into the league.
Let’s face it, taking Brandon Saad as an example on a team like the Blackhawks he may get overshadowed nationally with the Kanes, Toews ect on the team. Chicago knows how good this kid is and what he brings but this is also a chance for him and the other young guys to hone their leadership skills and shine on a big stage.
Personally I’m all in favor of more international events for the NHL and hockey in general. One of the unique characeristics of the NHL is it’s international flavor why not capitalize on that and bring in new fans from overseas. Look how a small country like Latvia got behind thier NHL player Zemgus Girgensons in the All Star Game voting, so international interest in the NHL is there. If the NHL ever wants to expand into Europe this is a good way to test that ground now the time differentials that’s another thing but maybe one day we will have 24/7 hockey games that’s fine with me.
If the Olympics prove anything, international competition brings in the casual hockey viewer and once you get them in it might be easy to hook them if they happen to like a certain player they may end up following that players team.
Getting High Tech
The NHL also introduced two new partnerships that could forever change how we look at hockey and sports broadcasting. The first is a camera called the GOPRO Hero 4 that they had mounted on the helmets of certain players and goalies if you have not seen the video of this it is sick. I highly urge you to check it out either on the NHL’s site or YouTube.
It lets fans truley experience what it is the players see when stopping pucks, stick handling, skating ect.. never have fans been closer or literally right in the middle of the action. This I believe will draw in the younger audiences and the extreme sports crowds. Let’s face it of all the major sports, hockey is more closely connected to extreme sports due to it’s speed and inherent danger levels with pucks flying at you. Hockey is just flat out cool because of the speed of the game and the skill of the players. Don’t believe men watch the Skills Competition of any All Star game.
What I found totally intriguing was the NHL’s partnership with Sportsvision and how this new technology that will embed chips in the pucks and into the players clothing that will be tracked in the rink with infrared scans to capture all kinds of new data digitally. It may one day be possible to know who had the puck for how long and who matches up better against each other ect.
For example maybe Patrick Kane matches up better against Drew Doughty of the LA Kings than Jonathan Toews does but maybe Toews matches up better against Bruins’ Zedano Chara. Can you imagine what coaches would do with this kind of information, not to mention all the analytics geeks? The information and tracking is unparalleled and really a bold step into a new world for the NHL. The below link will take you to the NHL’s website to explain this new technology.
To me this makes Corsi, Fenwick and PDO completely obsolete and brings us into a new revolutionary element to the game of hockey and the gaming industry as well. Personally I am very excited about this. I want to know is Patrick Kane better scoring from the left or the right or the slot and where the majority of his goals do come from. Is it easier to beat Corey Crawford, glove side, stick side or five hole or there is no difference.
The NHL loves their rivalries now they can sell, promote get advertisers on board with individual rivalries within each game. All in all announcing all these changes in the future whilst having your best talents on display at the All Stars Game made perfect sense and really for fans brings curiosity, excitement and hopefully wanting more.