We're glad to welcome George Scoville, who will contribute occasional articles here at OTF. - Dirk
As it appeared on Puck Daddy this morning:
Next year, the Winter Classic is going to shatter records. The alumni game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs will be an essential part of that celebration. Based on the Star story, it's a fairly easy fix for the NHL: Take ownership of the alumni event, seeing how dramatically its grown, and ensure that either the players themselves are better compensated or that the money goes into a fund to help ex-players.
But what about the current players in the Winter Classic?
The Winter Classic revenue is shared between the players and the NHL through their collectively bargained percentages. The bigger the Classic, the more the rest of the NHL's players benefit.
But again: What about the current players in the Winter Classic?
This poses an interesting question for Nashville Predators fans, the organization, and any other team in a non-traditional market. Follow after the jump for some thoughts...
Since its inception in the 2007-2008, the Winter Classic series has featured Eastern Conference teams at an 80% clip (Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo in 2008, Philadelphia vs. Boston in 2010, Pittsburgh vs. Washington in 2011, and New York vs. Philadelphia in 2012 compared with Detroit vs. Chicago in 2009), and featured Original Six teams at a 40% rate (Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and New York out of ten possible team selections). To some extent, the Winter Classic's popularity has reached the heights it has because of several factors, including bang-up marketing by the NHL, the NBA lockout this year, a hugely watched 2010 Winter Olympics gold medal hockey game between Team USA and Team Canada, and a predominance of large market franchises appearing in the marquee event.
But Wyshynski's normative question about whether or not players in the event deserve a larger share of the nascent annual highlight should raise questions for Predators fans (and other small market team fans) about the distribution of Winter Classic selections itself. If players participating in the event receive a larger share of revenue than they're due per the current-but-soon-to-be-revised CBA, then new incentives in hockey's labor market could drive players to demand trades to Eastern Conference and Original Six teams. Of course, none of the teams featured thus far are slouch teams, and it's no secret that any player who wants to win a Stanley Cup would love to play for those teams in any given year.
That said, if the league, owners, and players could find a way to shift the distribution of Winter Classic team selections away from its current biases, then there is nothing inherently wrong with giving players a larger share of their revenue. If everyone has a shot at the extra dough, then the league's labor market doesn't risk a distortion. NHL players (and the rivalries between them) are the League's most marketable commodities, and as such I think yes, they probably deserve a nice midseason bonus for playing in the Winter Classic.
I'd like to offer Commissioner Bettman a modest proposal -- a path forward, if you will -- and test his past support for league expansion southward: let's line up some Winter Classic match-ups featuring Canadian teams (next year's Toronto Maple Leafs selection being a first for the Winter Classic -- another Original Six team) and southern, non-traditional teams that Jim Balsillie tried to buy and move northward. I suggest starting with the Nashville Predators and Phoenix Coyotes (a former Canadian team) in consecutive years, and then perhaps the former Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes in a later year.