design: Sam Amonette
permission to print photos: Tannor Lambert
The National Hockey League. An utter joke of incompetency and disappointment annually. Not with the level of play but at the executive level. The players can only make due with what is there, and for the NHL they care about their profits at the end of the season rather than their fans and players which in my opinion make it the greatest game in the world. But the struggles at the top keep the NHL from being the best league in North America compared to the other big four. One of the more unique things about the NHL is the seven Canadian teams out of the current 31 teams and 32 total teams beginning in 2022.
The NHL is set to begin the regular season on January 13, with four divisions including an all Canadian division. There will be 56 regular season games with each team playing the other teams in their division 8 times, the top four teams in each division will make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The season is set up in pairings of home and away games. So the Jackets open their season in Nashville where they will play the Predators twice before returning to Columbus to open up Nationwide Arena against the Detroit Redwings. 16 teams make the playoffs, it is undetermined if there will be a playoff bubble again or not. But for the regular season it will be in regular NHL barns and teams will travel. The possibility of fans is changing and set to be decided after the season begins. It will most likely be based on the local politics of each franchise.
Other changes for the season include the possibility that at least four teams have been rumored to look at playing their home games outside to allow fans to attend. One of the prominent teams behind this idea are the Pittsburgh Penguins, who mentioned Heinz Field (Pittsburgh Steelers) and PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates) as possible suitors for outdoor hockey. Heinz field has played host to the Pens in the past during the stadium series game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Outside hockey is always fun, and the ability to have fans safely could add to the enjoyment even better.
Truthfully there is nothing quite like playoff hockey and hockey fans. I am lucky enough to have been to some huge live sporting events. I was in Cleveland in 2018, when the Browns won their first game in 635 days against the Jets and 80,000 fans at and around FirstEnergy Stadium lost their minds, I witnessed the flowers around the stadium be dug up by fans to plant them in front yards because ‘they are winning flowers”, the birth of baker mayfield as the savior of Cleveland, I was again in Cleveland last year when Myles Garrett infamously swung his helmet at Mason Rudolph and again the city went wild. In 2019 I went to every single home game of the playoffs in the two rounds the Jackets played in. I have never heard a lowder crowd than the moment that Artemi Panarin put the empty netter in the back of the net to put the Tampa Bay Lightning away and give the Jackets the sweep and a 4-0 round one upset. The NHL is unrivaled in the fan experience, the ability to go to a game and be out of there in about 3 hours is something the NFL and MLB cannot compete with.
One of the biggest hurdles for the NHL to still come across is the economic side of the deal. The struggle of money, the owners/chairmen/governors/rich guys don’t want to just break even. They still want to make money, and they are not going to step down. The NHL recently revealed reverse retro jerseys for all 31 teams, in what is obviously a pull to make money. The NHL jersey is the most expensive by quite a bit. A reverse retro jersey with a player name and number starts at $225.00 on shop.nhl.com, compared to $99.99 for a NFL authentic jersey on the NFL Shop, $110.00 for an NBA Nike jersey at the NBA store, and $164.99 for an MLB authentic jersey. The ability to compete with the other leagues that are in the Big Four usually has the NHL in third and fourth place consistently. Based on total revenue in 2018, the NFL walked away with a whopping 18.2 billion dollars in revenue, the MLB came next with 10.7 billion, followed by the NBA at 8.76 billion, and then fourth place fell to the NHL at 5.09 billion in total revenue according to The Daily Gazette. Surprisingly in 2019, Bryce Harper of the MLB’s Philadelphia Phillies has the fastest most sold jersey of all time according to Fanatics, he beat LeBron James record previously set in 2018 when he first joined the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers.
Hockey is the greatest game in my opinion. The speed of the game mixed with the physicality and the adrenaline is unmatched. In no other sport is there a person celebrated like Wes McCauley (a perfect name for a ref), or is there a keeper of the cup like Philip Pritchard, and the boos that rain down for Commissioner Gary Bettman any time his face is shown in any hockey town. The Stanley Cup is the biggest and brightest trophy in sports and it is a metaphor for the greatest game. Hopefully the NHL can figure it out and play a season this upcoming year, crown a champion and keep going. I know I for one will be watching.