The NHL will take its annual Christmas break from Sunday, Dec. 24 to Tuesday, Dec. 26. There will be no games during those three days — while the NBA, NFL and college football bowl games will play on. In fact, the NHL generally avoids scheduling games on any major holidays. Is that a good thing or bad thing for hockey fans? Senior writer Greg Wyshynski and NHL national reporter Emily Kaplan discuss.
Wyshynski: The NFL has become as ingrained a part of Thanksgiving as turkey and uncomfortable political conversations with extended family. The NBA has planted its flag on Christmas Day. But that’s not to say that the NHL couldn’t elbow its way into either of these holidays with a noteworthy collection of games or a big event, right? (Hey, remember when college football thought it owned New Year’s Day and then was totally crushed by the Winter Classic like a Zamboni rolling over soft ice at a baseball stadium?)
But it shouldn’t.
Look, I’m the first person to dry-heave over the hokum of hockey, i.e., overplaying the “blue-collar-boys-on-the-pond” aesthetic to its “please-like-my-sport” maximums. But there’s something undeniably quaint about the NHL taking off for American Thanksgiving and what I assume is American Christmas, because the NHL only really cares about American holidays. (See: Canadian Thanksgiving, which featured seven games, and Canada Day, when free agency starts.)
I know the NHL is leaving money on the table by taking off for the holidays, but the idea that these players who take a bludgeoning for 82 games and then enter a war of attrition in the Stanley Cup playoffs get to lay down their arms for a night to chill with family warms my heart like a giant mug of cocoa with artisanal marshmallows.
What say you, Grinch?
Kaplan: All right, I must begin with a disclaimer. Yes, I am Jewish — meaning my Christmas plans consist of ordering Chinese takeout, watching a bunch of movies and (aspirationally) catching up on some reading. Would I love a good Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Toronto Maple Leafs or St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators game on the docket to keep me entertained? Of course. But this isn’t about me.
This is about the NHL asserting itself as an equal among the other pro sport leagues. This undeniable quaintness of which you speak is one of the things hindering hockey’s mainstream growth. Here are some examples: hockey players being so deferential that they use the pronoun “we” over “I” and rarely make it about themselves — and therefore rarely grab opportunities for blockbuster self-marketing. (Consider what a big deal it was that P.K. Subban announced he was joining Adidas this week, and yet, in the first celeb-studded campaign video, Subban gets zero speaking lines and his cameo is highlighted by a nod.)
Some of my earliest memories of falling in love with hockey as a kid include watching Sunday afternoon games on TV with my dad (who often worked late nights, meaning weekend days — or, ahem, holidays — were the only time we could watch together). Shouldn’t we create more of those opportunities, not less?
And lastly, I know I sound like a Grinch who wants to rob NHL players of their Christmas experience. But let’s be honest: You can get creative about when you celebrate. Let’s say the Predators were playing at the Blues at 1 p.m. St. Louis time. All the Blues players would be able to wake up with their kids to open presents and be home by dinner. The Predators would take a team charter back immediately and probably be home for a late dinner too. And I’ll bet Predators coach Peter Laviolette wouldn’t be a Scrooge and would give his players the next day, or another day that week, off to celebrate with their families.
Wyshynski: You’re seriously limiting the players’ eggnog intake on Christmas Day, and I say this as someone who hates eggnog.
With respect and deference to members of The Tribe, I think the real issue here is something I joked about in the open: What is the cost/benefit of having NHL games on Christmas?
The cost is, obviously, the one paid by players, coaches and both team and arena staff in having to mobilize for a work day on one of the mutually agreed upon “do-nothing” days on the calendar. To say nothing of the season-ticket holders who may not want the obligation of having to attend this game.
But what’s the benefit? Again, the NBA owns the day. OK, the little baby Jesus, Santa Claus and Amazon probably own the day, but the NBA is a close fourth. The NHL would be a footnote at best. Heck, it had to play a hockey game in the middle of a football stadium in the middle of a snow shower just to break through the college bowl games and get noticed on Jan. 1. What would the NHL need to do to capture an audience on Dec. 25? Have the players ride reindeer? Play the game at the North Pole? Dress up Pierre McGuire as an elf, aka as Pierre McGuire?
I think it’s a nice gesture to give everyone the day off on the holidays, and I don’t see a considerable upside in taking that away.
Kaplan: When the NHL announced it was holding its Winter Classic on New Years’ Day, I’m sure there was a chorus that said, “But why? College football bowl games own the day.” Ten years later, the Winter Classic tradition is growing healthily.
I’m not saying that the NHL can overwrite the NFL’s dominance on Thanksgiving or the NBA’s ownership of Christmas, but why not give it a try? The holiday season, unfortunately, has become rooted in commercialism and keeping up with the Joneses. I can’t think of anyone who wants to keep up with the Joneses more than the NHL.
I’m not talking about a full slate of NHL games. Just one or two to rile up a general audience. Perhaps they make it an outdoor game to lure in the casual fan. And hey, if anyone is offering to shuttle reindeer into Pittsburgh or dress up Pierre McGuire, I’m all in on the kitsch.
As for cost? This is the part where I hate the most that I sound like a Scrooge. You make a good point, Greg — it’s not just coaches and management and players we’re talking about here, but also the mini-army it takes to put on a game: concession workers, media relations staffs, trainers, security guards, the works. Of course, the team would have to compensate fairly (double pay? overtime?) with the understanding that it’s a special occasion and it wouldn’t happen every year. But it’s a strange hill for the NHL to die on, saying they want to save a few dollars and not put games on holidays. And those season-ticket holders you don’t want to burden with having to attend a game on a holiday? Well, I’m projecting these games will be a hot commodity, of course, so those who don’t want to attend will do just fine selling them on the secondary market. And hey, here’s another bonus: I just gave everyone a great gift idea for 2018. You’re welcome.