Basketball has Christmas day. The NFL has the month of December. Baseball has July. But Hockey has never had a specific time, besides playoffs, when the best hockey is played.
After witnessing both the Centennial Classic, taking place on New Years day, as well as The Winter Classic, taking place on January 2nd, I believe that New Years could be the NHL’s Christmas.
Both of these games were exciting, though the one in Toronto was the better, as a young Maple Leafs took an aging Detroit on and into overtime, where future NHL star Auston Matthews scored the winner.
The Blackhawks and Blues played hard, competitive hockey into the third period before the Blackhawks were walloped. This was the Blackhawks third loss in the Winter Classic. Unfortunately for the rest of the league, whenever that happens they win the Cup proceeding it.
But those games could have been better in one simple way: play them on the same day. On Christmas day, the NBA plays a ton of basketball, one game picking up where the other left off. That’s what the NHL should have on January 1st.
This year, the NFL also played on the 1st, which means they took priority. Unfortunately for the rest of the big 4, after a year of looking vulnerable, the NFL still holds the American audience captive. Which means that the NHL wouldn’t have competed on New Year’s day.
But given six years (about as many until the NFL plays on the 1st again) to establish a tradition, and putting the best hockey on January 1st, it is my belief that the NFL could not compete with NHL’s best day of hockey outside of early summer.
The matchups would have to be perfect. The ones I’m picturing for the NHL’s first year: 10:00 AM EST Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers 1:00 PM New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals 4:00 PM Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild 7:00 PM Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins.
This would give the perfect mix of tradition (Philadelphia/Penguins, Habs/Bruins) and fanbase (Rangers, Capitals, Hawks) as well as quality games throughout. The whole day would be exciting, and assuming minimal injuries, the teams would play each other hard.
These are all interdivisional games as well, and those are often the best. Look at NFL’s week 17 for reference.
If the NHL had enough time to develop New Year’s day, to make it a tradition around the Winter Classic, making that the headlining 7 o’clock game, they could win the day.
The Winter Classic this year between the Blackhawks and Blues was the biggest regular season game in St. Louis history. That was despite awful marketing from NBC. If the NHL was able to develop January 1st, it could become another selling point for the NHL’s future television contracts.