August 29, 2011
Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
On Friday, the NCAA conference Hockey East formally announced that it would hold a pair of outdoor games at Fenway Park on Jan. 7, 2012.
It will be the second doubleheader the league has hosted at the ballpark since 2010, and highlights an increasingly concerning problem with the state of games outdoors.
Namely, that there are too goddamn many of them.
Remember all that talk about how the NHL might be watering down the specialness of the Winter Classic by holding the Heritage Classic about a month and a half after? Turns out the concern over NHL's big single-day, money-making, attention-grabbing premier event was misplaced. This league isn't even remotely the problem.
It's everybody else.
This year's Winter Classic will be the league's seventh outdoor game in nine years, which is a little less than one a season and a wholly appropriate number. (This figure does not include the associated alumni games, obviously.)
The real issue is any half-assed league can put one of these together these days. The AHL will hold two outdoor games of its own this year, one in Hamilton and one rumored-but-kind-of-confirmed in Philadelphia on the Winter Classic ice. And then there's the NCAA, which will have the two Hockey East games plus a CCHA tilt in Cleveland between Ohio State and Michigan. And the WHL, the NAHL, the AJHL ...
Why not just play every hockey game from now on outside?
(Coming Up: Sabres' Cup chances; pressure on Shea Weber(notes); Jordan Hendry(notes) goes Wild; Teemu feeling optimistic; Flaming bank robber; John Tavares(notes) roommate watch; Modano on the fence; Jovanovski rebound; LA Kings go with four jerseys; Kyle Wellwood(notes) hungry for contract; Bruins aren't afraid of competition; crazy Alex Semin trade; Dustin Penner(notes) busting a gut this offseason; and please god no Nickelback in Winnipeg.)
It's too many. In fact, from the beginning of 2010 and the end January 2012, there will have been 26 outdoor games played in the U.S. and Canada. Plus five in Europe. And one in Mexico. Really.
Hell, between Jan. 2-21, 2012, there will be six of these outdoor games. An average of one every three or so days and, between the Fenway games and the AHL tilt in Philly, three in two days.
Funnily enough, Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna addressed the concern over this ever-spreading epidemic of outdoor games, noting that just four games in three years for a bunch of disparate fan bases would hardly be overkill for the conference.
"But there will come a time when somebody says 'you tried it one time too many,'" Bertagna said. "As long as we don't do it every year, I think it's got some life."
Yes, it's very cool if you're a fan of Vermont or UMass or Maine or UNH or the Rangers, who haven't played in outdoor games since the advent of air conditioning. The problem is if you're just a regular ol' hockey fan — or a supporter of the Flyers or Penguins, who will soon have played in two Winter Classics each, or Michigan, which is about to play its third outdoor game in less than two calendar years — it's already way more than one every year.
And let's be perfectly clear here: Even ignoring the whole "that's a lot of outdoor hockey," thing, the quality of play is a far cry from what anyone would call good.
No one has ever even considered waxing poetic about the aesthetic beauty of these games, and if the 16 across the globe in the 2011 calendar year didn't produce more than one or two contests best described as "not-ugly," they're not about to start now.
Watching one or two of these unsightly contests a year is something you can struggle through, even working your way through your New Year's hangover. Six in a month is not.
So for about three weeks in January, there's going to be a full-on assault of outdoor games, each with players talking liberally about how "special" the experience is.
But please, don't believe the hype.
They'll let anyone play outside these days.
What We Learned
Chicago Blackhawks: Jamal Mayers'(notes) nickname is Jammer. "The general manager gave me that name because in roller derby there's a jammer, the one who races ahead and knocks people over and that's what I was doing," Mayers said. So let that be a lesson to everyone who can't stands hockey nicknames that are just parts of people's names ending in -er or -sy. They all got them because of roller derby.
Colorado Avalanche: Peter Mueller(notes) should be good to go for the start of the season after he missed all of last year with concussion-related problems. Legitimately great news. He'll also wear a tinted visor, which he says makes him feel like he's in Top Gun. Less-great news.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets are opening their preseason schedule against the Jets in a pair of split squad games that will be played at the same time. No word on how they'll cut Rick Nash(notes) in half to make him play both.
Edmonton Oilers: The rookie forwards on the Oilers ate up a ton of minutes last year, and Jordan Eberle(notes), Taylor Hall(notes), Magnus Paajarvi(notes) and Linus Omark(notes) were a combined minus-50 as a result.
Montreal Canadiens: Habs coach Jacques Martin will participate in a Hockey Canada camp designed to help find ways for youth-level leagues to avoid checking. Presumably Martin was called in because of his experience coaching people under five feet tall.
Nashville Predators: Shea Weber now says he feels a lot of pressure thanks to that big deal he signed. But hey don't worry buddy Ryan Suter's(notes) got your back and they're hardly paying him anything at all.
Ottawa Senators: If they want to be successful next year, the Senators need their veterans to step up. And also their rookies and coaching staff and general manager and fans and equipment managers and trainers and hockey ops department and scouting staff and probably peanut vendors.
Philadelphia Flyers: Blair Betts(notes) gets more than a third of his ice time on the penalty kill, which, on a team like the Flyers, means he gets a lot of ice time.
Pittsburgh Penguins: One of Dustin Jeffrey(notes), Simon Despres(notes) or Eric Tangradi(notes) could be the Penguins' breakout player this season. I dunno, I've heard good things about this Crosby kid.
San Jose Sharks: Though Winnipeg and Columbus have expressed an interest in signing him, Kyle Wellwood would much prefer to go back to San Jose. To the point where he would accept a tryout offer with no guaranteed spot ahead of actual contracts from the other two clubs. See? No one wants to live in Winnipeg.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues don't have a captain and won't name one at least until training camp, if they do at all. Who wouldn't kill to join a list that features Barry Gibbs? The Bee Gees were awesome.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Can the Bolts build on last season's playoff success, NHL.com asks. Does no one else see that this team absolutely screams "2010 Flyers" in terms of punching above their weight for one playoff run and somehow tricking people into thinking they're legitimate heavyweights in the East?
Vancouver Canucks: The headline on a story about Chris Tanev(notes) reads, "Canucks defender makes impact without throwing a hit." So just like last season then.
Gold Star Award
Big ups to the guys who played street hockey in Times Square this weekend. They're really cool.
Minus of the Weekend
Dustin Penner's lookin' good.
Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week
User "ChibiPuki" is tryin' to shake things up.
To San Jose:
Yes, eat all of our shirts.