NHL Week in Review (Jan. 1-7)

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The NHL is at a disadvantage in the USA as they have to battle very established leagues for entertainment dollars. This forces them to come up with new and innovative ways to attract more fans to come out to the games. One of these was created in 2008. The NHL Winter Classic started in 2008 as a way to showcase the NHL on a big stage with a big hyped up event. The 2008 event was held in Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo as the Sabres took on the Pittsburgh Penguins. The entire point of this game was to pay an homage to the history of the NHL and of hockey in general. As has been brought out many times playing outdoors is not really a part of the NHL history as no teams played outdoors by the time the NHL was created. There were never outdoor games in the NHL but the Winter Classic was about more than that as it was a look back to the beginnings of the sport. The game of hockey was started by Canadians skating on frozen lakes and ponds playing around. This tradition continues to the day as many North American players have, at one time, played on a frozen pond or in a backyard rink. This is the tradition that the Winter Classic relates to as it harks back to a different time in the careers of many of the players. Of course with this look back the real reason to host these events is to look forward to a way to capitalize on a special event in the NHL. The top league in North America is the NFL and they have become this thanks to the creation of events almost on a weekly basis through their marketing. A large part of their popularity is the Super Bowl that takes a weekend by storm and is one of the biggest days in sports. The NHL cannot do the same thing with their Finals as there is potentially 7 games and the end could be at any time from game 4 on. In an attempt to make up for their lack of events the NHL has recently begun to create events that were generally not covered. The NHL Draft, NHL All-Star weekend and Trade Deadline are great examples but the Winter Classic steps in as a big event that focuses on one game during the season. The NHL has done well with this event as they continue to sell a number of tickets in big stadiums. This year was no different as the Philadelphia Flyers hosted the New York Rangers at Citizens Bank Park in a game that meant much more than the past games. Of course it wasn’t for a playoff spot but it was a battle for first place in the Atlantic Division. The game started slow and then picked up with the goal scoring starting in the second period. Overall it was a good game as New York took the win but most of all the NHL showcased yet another successful Winter Classic game. The NHL is not done here of course as they will continue to put on the Winter Classic games and look to get back to the Heritage Classic that was held in 2010 and featured two Canadian teams. The Heritage Classic is a response to Canadian fans who wanted to see an outdoor game themselves and was held in Calgary in 2011 but was not held this year. The NHL will try to do it again next year and will host the Winter Classic again as the Detroit Red Wings are favorites to host the next outdoor game at Michigan Universities Big House that hosted a Michigan vs. Michigan State hockey game last year. Look for the Winter Classic to become a staple in the NHL schedule as they try to own January 1st in the sports calendar with a big event. The Winter Classic is good for the NHL as they continue to find new ways to grow the sport in the USA.

The NHL continually tries to grow the sport in the USA but a return to Canada has been one of the biggest stories this year. The return to Winnipeg was a major NHL story and continues to be as they have some of the best, and loudest, fans in the NHL. One of the greatest impacts the Jets have had on the NL is the hectic travel schedule that has been created due to the short time between the Jets coming back to Winnipeg and the season beginning. The schedules could not be changed and therefore the Jets were required to play in the Eastern Conference forcing them to travel far in every game and forcing the other teams to travel far for their away games in Winnipeg. To solve this issue the NHL needed to change their alignment and make the travel schedule more realistic for all teams. They NHL took on this problem at their Winter Meetings when they sifted through a number of realignment ideas and settled on one of the more extreme versions. The NHL decided that they would create four conferences based on time zones to solve the complaints of teams not wanting to travel into different time zones as it would affect the players. The NHL owners approved this new alignment for the NHL as it would start in 2012. The new alignment would need one more step to be completely approved as the NHLPA would need to approve the new plan for it to be put into practice. The NHLPA came to a decision this week as they voted to deny the realignment plan ending the new plan. The realignment will be put on hold but the most interesting part of this decision by the NHLPA is the fact that at the end of the current season the NHL CBA will expire. This means that the NHLPA’s decision to stop the realignment could be purely political. Expect the realignment to happen eventually but the NHLPA will not approve it now as they will most likely use it as a bargaining chip in CBA negotiations this summer. The NHL will now be looking to see if they can take legal action against the NHLPA in order to ensure the realignment plan can happen next year rather than later. This decision is the first move in a political battle that will all lead up to a for sure stalemate this summer that will, hopefully be over sooner rather than later.

 

Standings:

 

Eastern Conference:

Atlantic Division:

1. New York Rangers (56)

2. Philadelphia Flyers (52)

3. New Jersey Devils (48)

4. Pittsburgh Penguins (46)

5. New York Islanders (34)

Northeast Division:

1. Boston Bruins (53)

2. Ottawa Senators (48)

3. Toronto Maple Leafs (47)

4. Buffalo Sabres (41)

5. Montreal Canadiens (39)

Southeast Division:

1. Florida Panthers (48)

2. Winnipeg Jets (45)

3. Washington Capitals (44)

4. Tampa Bay Lightning (37)

5. Carolina Hurricanes (35)

 

Western Conference:

Central Division:

1. St. Louis Blues (53)

2. Chicago Blackhawks (52)

3. Detroit Red Wings (51)

4. Nashville Predators (48)

5. Columbus Blue Jackets (27)

Northwest Division:

1. Vancouver Canucks (55)

2. Minnesota Wild (48)

3. Colorado Avalanche (47)

4. Calgary Flames (43)

5. Edmonton Oilers (35)

Pacific Division:

1. San Jose Sharks (50)

2. Dallas Stars (47)

3. Los Angeles Kings (47)

4. Phoenix Coyotes (45)

5. Anaheim Ducks (28)

 

Key Scores:

New York Rangers 3 – 2 Philadelphia Flyers

– The 8th Winter Classic was a good one as the Rangers took the win and took control of the Atlantic Division with three unanswered goals at the end of the second period and the third winning the biggest game this past week

 

Montreal Canadiens 7 – 3 Winnipeg Jets

– The Canadiens have been struggling all year while the Jets had been rolling lately but the Canadiens exploded for a great offensive game and were led by the unlikely Lars Eller who scored four goals on the night

 

Boston Bruins 9 – 0 Calgary Flames

– The Boston Bruins proved their dominance against a struggling team as they got goals from 7 different players as they completely dominated the game against a Flames team that has begun to struggle again

 

Toronto Maple Leafs 4 – 3 Detroit Red Wings

– The Original Six was on display in Toronto as the Red Wings and Leafs played a tight game that saw the Leafs go ahead 3-0 in the first and then lose the lead by the third when Detroit tied the game only to get another goal by Joffrey Lupul and win the game

 

Next Week:

Detroit Red Wings vs. Chicago Blackhawks (January 8th; 7:30 pm)

– NBC Sports kicks off their NHL broadcasting season with a classic matchup of two American Original Six teams as the Blackhawks look to stop their slid and the Red Wings look to take over the second place spot in the Central Division

 

Buffalo Sabres vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (January 10th; 7:00 pm)

– The Battle of the QEW continues as the Sabres and Leafs face off for the third time this year in a Northeast Division battle as the Leafs look to stay in the division battle while the Sabres look to take another step into the battle

 

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals (January 11th; 7:30 pm)

– The rivalry is not as great or as hated without one of the two stars with Sidney Crosby out but there will still be some hate in the matchup as the Penguins try to get back to their winning ways while the Caps continue to fight for the second place in the Southeast Division

 

New York Rangers vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (January 14th; 7:00 pm)

– The two biggest grossing teams will face off for the third time this year with Toronto taking the first two and the Rangers looking to take off in the Atlantic Division and the Leafs look to continue their divisional battle

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