A couple of questions to chew on this week:
1. How much does not having NHL games mean to your viewing and hockey-following habits during the lockout?
If you can watch a game from the Swedish Elitserien, Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, the Swiss National A League or Germany's Deutsche Eishockey Liga, do you? After all, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Tyler Seguin and many more NHL stars are in action overseas. But how much of a hit does your interest take because they aren't wearing the colors of the Detroit Red Wings or Toronto Maple Leafs or Philadelphia Flyers or whatever your favorite team happens to be?
Personally, it was hard to watch Monday night's Severstal Cherepovets vs. Avangard Omsk game on MSG. It's an interesting alternative, but it was done with North American announcers who were not that familiar with the KHL. Voice-overs from a studio in North America can make the coverage appear not only live, but plausibly in person. Yet whether the announcers are in the press box or the studio, even with the presence of NHL players on international rosters, it would add to the coverage if someone associated with the league was available to tell some colorful stories.
Those of you who are of a certain generation may recall when NBC used to invite local announcers to join the baseball broadcast booth with Curt Gowdy and Joe Garagiola during the World Series. As a result, you'd get anecdotes from people who had followed the clubs all year and they added to the depth and dimensions of the coverage. So, does lack of familiarity on the part of the broadcasters turn you off?
Question 2: Do you think another renegade league, something like the old WHA, could ever get off the ground in North America? Would it survive for long? Each time there's an NHL work stoppage, voices from the fringes talk about creating a new league to fill the void. It would take some financial tycoons who are willing to lose some money or who at least have the nerve to think they could make some money without a viable TV contract. But there was a time when the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets were just ideas and their time in the WHA ultimately got them into the NHL. Would you be interested in a renegade league if it came to be?
Let me know.
And now, some comments from readers:
I think it is time to call on the fans to apply pressure to get this lockout settled. I believe that the fans should boycott attending one game for every three games that are cancelled, once the season starts. Hard to enforce, but maybe the threat would work.-- Greg J, Grand Rapids, MI
It's a wonderful idea, but it isn't possible to unify a large group of people who are as disparate as hockey fans. Since you're from Michigan, I'd say just try to get a Red Wings fan and a Blackhawks fan in the same room to agree on anything. The response to hockey's return -- and let's hope it happens this season -- will be organic. Some fans will stay away because they simply don't care about the game anymore. They will mostly be the potential converts who have been lost to alternatives such as the NBA or college basketball, then baseball (once football season is done). If a fan cares enough to think of proactively boycotting hockey, it means he cares about it enough that he'll be back.
They should cancel the All-Star Game (for good). It had its place before the Winter Classic as the NHL's pre-playoff showpiece, but that's no longer the case. It's a complete waste of time. Getting rid of it (and the attendant break in the regular season) would also allow the playoffs to start and end a bit earlier, which I think we can all agree would be a good thing.-- Rob, Sydney, Australia
Some people have tied the irrelevance of the All-Star Game to the emergence of the Winter Classic (and, I'd add, the Heritage Classic, too). It's a great point. When I was growing up, the All-Star Game was a fun showcase for the game that created at least some buzz among fans. If your guy played well or even took home the car as MVP, there were serious bragging rights involved. Now the Classic has become not only a moneymaker and a big stage with drama that builds thanks in part to the excellent HBO 24/7 Series, but it has also become a game that truly matters to players.
Take a behind-the-scenes poll of players to see how many would skip the All-Star Game if they could. Then ask how many would not want to play in the Classic. The advent of NHL players participating in the Olympics has also made the All-Star Game less important. No matter what he does for the rest of his NHL career, Sidney Crosby's most memorable goal will be the one he scored for Canada to beat the U.S. in overtime and win a gold medal at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. He could score a thousand All-Star goals and none would have the same resonance or importance.