The NHL Winter Classic, over the past several years, has served to expand hockey's fan base and make the sport more appealing to a wider audience. Some could argue that it's more noticeable to the general public than the Stanley Cup finals themselves.
This year, due to labor disputes and the absence of a CBA, the NHL has been forced to cancel the iconic Winter Classic, which would have been played in Michigan between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. All other games that would have been played through the end of November have likewise been cancelled.
While it's true that the NHL itself is losing money right now, those who truly pay the price are the throngs of devout and disappointed hockey fans.
The NHL itself has always lacked the "dynamic" personalities of other sports. Players and coaches alike are quiet; their interviews painfully canned and predictable. The overall vibe is cold and distant, exemplified as players walk to the dressing room while ignoring the reaching hands hoping for high fives. I suppose if the glass weren't in the way, players might leap into the stands like some NFL players do after touchdowns; yet if that were to ever happen, you've got to admit it would look out of place in the NHL.
Now to be clear, I'm not condemning the sober and quiet disposition of the world's coaches and hockey players. However, it does give the feeling that fans in this situation are largely being ignored and not considered. In the handling of the lockout and the cancellation of the Winter Classic, it's kind of like the players and owners alike are walking down the tunnels to their dressing rooms and once again, completely ignoring our pleas for a quick high five.
While I'm not willing to say that those trying to negotiate a settlement and end the lockout are apathetic, it's discouraging to feel somehow under-appreciated and unrecognized as the source of life for this league and sport.
The NHL needs to be more keenly aware and appreciative of their fans moving forward, because the fact of the matter is, their PR just isn't that good, and going through the process of another lockout will almost certainly cause their audience to shrink.
If that's the case, the league needs to take a few pages out of the NFL's playbook and get a little more personal with their fan base. Sadly, the Winter Classic was one of the few things they've employed that did a really great job of that. Without it, and possibly without half of a season, one could argue that it will be tougher for the league to recover, especially in smaller hockey markets.
We fans don't care about money, and we exemplify that by shelling it out for tickets, merchandise and NHL Center Ice so we can get our fill of the sport we love. At the end of the day, all we care about is seeing our favorite teams and players hit the ice. The fact of the matter is everybody involved will get paid, and they'll get paid a lot. The only people who truly lose out, are we, the fans, who don't get to watch our favorite teams and the sport we love.