The Chicago Blackhawks lost the 2017 Winter Classic to the St. Louis Blues on Monday afternoon. It’s the fourth time that the team has lost in five outdoor game appearances, which for some has been enough to suggest we should say “good riddance.”
However, I’d propose that there’s only one real argument for why the Hawks shouldn’t keep playing outdoor games, and it’s that somebody else deserves a turn. When it comes to actually following and watching these games, they’re a nice change of pace.
Here’s the quiet reality of an 82-game season: sometimes things get a little stale. You’re playing so many games in such a small time frame that sometimes it feels like you’re going through the motions. A late night game against the Avalanche in mid-January? A 6 p.m. start time for a game in Carolina? Sure, they’re still NHL games, but let’s not pretend like anyone has these games circled as grand events on their calendar.
The Winter Classic breaks up that monotony. Even if the excitement is largely manufactured and the sponsors are plentiful, it’s still at least different from another midseason game that bleeds into all of the others. There’s a degree of spectacle that’s not usually part of the workmanlike hockey season.
And beyond the fans, the novelty hasn’t worn off for those involved. The players still love playing in football or baseball arenas in front of unusually massive audiences. And even mainstream media gives real attention to the games, which often get NBC national television treatment. Regardless of what you think about the production values NBC brings to these broadcasts, it’s meaningful to have hockey broadcast on the same network that runs cultural touchstones like Sunday Night Football and Saturday Night Live.
What are the arguments against wanting to see your team in the outdoor games? The most obvious would seem to be that this is still a real NHL game, and you’d rather not have two points on the line in a game played under unusual circumstances. But it’s just 1.2 percent of the season, and those results realistically shouldn’t have some massive impact on year-end results. If you miss the playoffs by a game after losing in a Winter Classic, you can probably point to another 20 things outside the outdoor game that caused you to be left out.
The outdoor games obviously aren’t perfect. The weather and sunlight have created all sorts of issues over the years, and sometimes the game never quite hits a feverish pace. If you’re trying to use these events to sell hockey to national audiences, ideally everything would be executed perfectly and the playing conditions would be flawless.
But even with all of those things potentially screwing up the day, the outdoor games are always fun. It’s fun to wake up in the morning knowing you can watch a hockey games with millions of others at noon. It’s fun to hear live bands play the background music instead of another Pearl Jam song. It’s fun to see how much fun everyone involved is having.
So while everyone in hockey might agree that the Blackhawks don’t need to be in another outdoor game for the foreseeable future, we shouldn’t be opposed to it. Outdoor games are fun, hockey is fun, and the downsides are basically negligible. Bring on the next outdoor game (2018 anyone!?!?!), and hey, maybe the Blackhawks might actually win it, too.