Giving Thanks: The NHL versus Other Professional Sports

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opinion In a time of disarray, when all hell seems to be breaking loose, when it seems like negativity and worry have consumed the country, there is an escape.  When the media outlets have been flooded with torrential and depressing information, a haven from it all exists.  Distractions from daily life and volatile environments have engulfed your news feed, but there is hope. 

There is hockey.

Fittingly so, it is time to be grateful for the coolest game on earth.  Day in and day out, there is a constant almost all year-long.  Fans can end most days knowing that they can tune in and enjoy the sport that keeps on giving.

The NHL is simply “doing it right” while one of the biggest sports in the country (thou shall remain nameless) are in a errible downward spiral.  The product they yield has for the most part, continued to cater to the players and fans alike year after year.  Here are a few points (among endless) that prove it.

Keeping fans initiated is crucial to both retaining the long time faithful and grabbing the attention of newcomers.  The NHL has created the Winter Classic, as well as other special events like the Outdoor Series to spark interest, and successfully so.  There is no question that these occasions have been a great addition to the hockey markets, all the while maintaining the traditions of the sport and where it was born.  Experiences of watching those games live, or even from a living room, are a great refresher and a new, exciting look at the game.

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Getty Images

It’s nice to know that the NHL and other leagues are taking steps to create more fan involved celebrations of hockey, and fans can be thankful that there are probably more in the works ahead.   Instead of bringing games overseas and into different countries, creating unique developments in different but appropriate atmospheres is an honest gesture to the people who support their teams and the NHL.  What’s cooler than watching a professional team play in front of almost 100,000 fans in a stadium built for another sport?  Watching a football or baseball stadium become converted into a hockey mecca for almost 100,000 screaming fans has got to be one of the more awesome things in sports right now.

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Chuck Solomon/SI

Speaking of initiation, and maintaining interest in games… It literally takes over 4 hours to watch an NFL football game. Backed by studies from the Wall Street Journal, there are only 11 minutes of actual play time in an average contest.  The viewing experience is overrun by excessive commercials, an asinine amount of standing around, replay, and commentary.  In the span of an NFL broadcast, less than 10 percent of the time is spent watching live football.  Not to mention, officiating and overall game quality is at an all-time low, and viewers are beginning to drop the ratings.  Has the NFL done much to change that?  The proof is in the disappointment brewing among fans.  With that said, thank goodness for hockey!   60 full minutes, guaranteed, 82 times a year (not including the playoffs).  That’s almost 5,000 minutes of live hockey to watch each season, compared to a measly 200 or so for an NFL campaign.  The shortest off-season in professional sports as well?  Even better!  The flow and nature of the sport allows for a big part of the time difference, but it can be a chore to sit through what football is providing at this point.   The NHL has even made small changes to the game like the hurry up face-off rule, which allows for only 18 seconds between puck drops during stoppages in play.  Talk about maintaining the flow of play and keeping the viewers happy.

40thanniversaryjerseysAdjustments are necessary for a constantly evolving sport, and the rule changes the league has made over the years have proven undoubtedly beneficial for both players and audiences.  When scoring became minimal in games, modifications to game decree like the two-line pass rule, and the goalie crease being decreased in size were subtle adjustments that would help improve the game, all the while maintaining its nature.  The result among other rule changes was more goals, which revitalized a struggling part of the game.   When overtime and shootout games were getting too long, and fans were leaving games early, the league made a huge alteration that may be the most successful yet.  The numbers don’t lie, and there are more games ending in timely, exciting fashion thanks to the new 3 on 3 OT format.   Results speak volumes, and the NHL seems to be getting them.  There are hundreds of other revisions the NHL has created over several decades that shape a higher quality affair for everybody.   Hockey is the fastest game on earth and the pros are only getting faster, which means injury is also more imminent.  Fans can be thankful for the addressment of those issues as well, such as hybrid icing being installed as mandatory across the league.  Although it may alter certain aspects of the game, and invalidate the ability for a speed skater to break up an icing call, it was made a rule for the sake of avoiding injury.  This is an important trait that the NHL has retained, and hockey crowds can be extremely gratified for such.

With player safety becoming an imperative part of professional sports, hockey organizations and leagues have remained rigorous in their efforts to keep some of the best athletes in the world safe and healthy.  Although injuries are inevitable and guys are going to get banged up, the NHL and other hockey alliances have done a splendid job to decrease avoidable damage to players.  NHL Player Safety has become a major part of the game, and it seems to have engrained a better sense of responsibility among players.  Punishments for foul play have become more severe, which has resulted in much less “goon” hockey.  The less bone-headed activity that sports media covers, the better the reputation for the NHL and other hockey leagues.  NHL and other professional players are at the mercy of strict enforcement, and it has been shown in recent years that they are serious, while other sports can’t seem to establish a common code of play.

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On that note, professional hockey players have proven time and time again to be some of the classiest athletes in the world, with perpetual involvement in the community throughout entire organizations, as well as personal outreach from stand-outs like PK Subban.  Another example, the recent Caps Canine Calendar, which takes 100% of proceeds and donates them to an animal rescue.    Not to say it doesn’t exist in other sports, but it is something to be super proud of.  The trend is growing as well, which is very admirable.  These guys take time out of their personal lives to connect with people (and now animals in need) all year long.   A special thanks to the sport, and to the pros for recognizing such needs, and creating the best possible experience for all.

There are lots of stories in pro sports pertaining to the fans and their questionable behavior.  Some cities are worse than others (unfortunately, we saw that in the playoffs last year), but lucky for the NHL and hockey fans, they are seldom involved.  Hockey games have, for the most part, continued to be family friendly events that provide a great experience for all ages.  In exception to a few mishaps that have happened around the league, the reputation the NHL upholds for audience atmosphere is often overlooked, and should be more recognized.  Keeping close to 20,000 people entertained, all the while preventing calamity amongst large groups of people, is a feat the league has done a spectacular job with.  Let’s not forget that the audiences themselves create these quality environments too, and no matter who the team, these common groups can pat themselves (and each other) on the back for being some of the best in the world.  Next game, high five that section buddy, or that random stranger who helps to sustain such a great surrounding. Thanks for making it easy to love going to games.  It’s accommodating, it’s still affordable, and it’s a boat-load of fun for everybody.  In the long list of reasons to be grateful for hockey, this is certainly a good one.

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Jimmy Kimmel

The Lombardi Trophy? Eh.  The MLB’s Commissioner’s Trophy? Nope.  The Heisman? Hardly. Green Jacket, Gold Jacket, who gives a ****.  The Stanley Cup.  Hands down, the most awe-inspiring trophy in all professional sports.  What other championship prize can you eat cereal, or drink beer out of?  How many can say that their favorite superstars got to bring a championship to their hometown to share it with friends and family?  The tradition and gravity Lord Stanley’s Cup represents takes the crown of all others, tenfold.  The names of players who represent the hard-fought battle of what may be the toughest national championship to win, engraved into history.  It stands tall and proud, helping to represent the undertaking necessary to earn its touch.  It is without question the single most iconic trophy in all of sports, and hockey lovers will always have that, no matter who the winner.

The list could go on and on, but for hockey lovers across the globe, the bottom line is that the NHL and other hockey leagues have shown their fan bases all the love in the world.  The previously mentioned points are just a few of the aspects that prove hockey to be one of the greatest (if not the greatest) sports in the world.

What would you add that makes you grateful for hockey this Thanksgiving?

By Brennan Reidy

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His passion for the Caps has grown over the decades, which has included time as a season ticket holder, social media and community organizer, and most recently led to the founding of NoVa Caps in 2014. Jon earned a Bachelor's of Science in Engineering at Old Dominion University, and is a Systems Engineer during intermissions, which has been instrumental in supporting his Capitals habit.
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