NHL forecast sunny, if there's more snow
Joe knows more about the NBA than anyone I've ever spoken with. Joe loves the NFL. He's also pretty good about college football, golf and the television series "Entourage." But Joe couldn't tell you who's the leading scorer in the NHL or who won the last three Stanley Cups. In fact, he hasn't watched a hockey game on TV in more than a decade.
So don't ask me why I tossed this out over lunch: "Did you watch the NHL's outdoor game in Buffalo, Tuesday?"
It was one part smart-aleck, one part curiosity that became all parts surprise when Joe answered, "Yah, it was great."
I follow the NHL for a living. Even if it wasn't a job, I'd watch a lot of hockey.
But on New Year's Day, I managed to get in about 20 minutes of time in front of my TV with the Buffalo-Pittsburgh game on. Michigan was doing well in its bowl game. Relatives were coming over for one last holiday get-together. My 5- and 4-year-old were behaving like children.
"You watched that game? Some of it or most of it?"
"Just about the whole thing," said Joe.
"You didn't watch Michigan or search around for bowl highlights or previews?"
"Nah," said Joe. "There weren't any good bowl games on."
"Not that interested."
Being a self-proclaimed hockey expert -- a fact that still awaits verification from anyone -- I thought that I had this outdoor game analyzed perfectly. The NHL made a mistake by picking New Year's Day to play a special game on national television. What next, go up against the Super Bowl? Why the NHL picked New Year's Day is a mystery that no one will solve. Let's just call it another in a series of bad business decisions.
"So why did you watch a hockey game on New Year's Day?" I asked, knowing this was the first game that Joe watched all season.
"It was snowing. Very cool. I turned it on early, saw the snow and kept watching. The snow made it. I was hoping it would have come down harder. A blizzard would have been better."
"But don't you think it was stupid of the NHL to play on New Year's Day?" I asked. "Wouldn't it have been better on Monday or Wednesday?"
"It wasn't about that. NBC lost the Gator Bowl. They wanted this for New Year's Day and New Year's Day only. They weren't going to show this game any other day. It was NBC, not the NHL."
Joe had just made sense of an NHL decision because he was focused on college football instead of the NHL. He was right.
So was NBC. That outdoor game got the highest television rating in this country for any hockey game in the past decade.
"Well don't you think that if you've got a special game like this, it was a waste to have Sidney Crosby play in it?" I asked. "Crosby can sell a nothing Tuesday-night game in Atlanta. If you're playing outdoors, you don't need Sid."
"Nah," said Joe. "Crosby wasn't selling the game. The game was selling Crosby. This was a way for the league to make him into a bigger star. He needed this game more than the game needed him. He hasn't reached that level yet. … But you might know this. Did they rig that game so that he scored the winner in the shootout? If they did, that's smart. They have to set him up as the best player in the game."
Because Joe hasn't been reading story after story, watching highlight after highlight about Crosby, he had better insight than me. If you follow hockey, you're almost sick of the attention given Crosby. But if you don't follow hockey … Crosby isn't that big of a deal.
Joe was right again and I was growing tired of having someone explain my profession to me. But at least Joe was on his way to becoming a hockey fan.
"So are you going to watch the Wings' game tonight?" I asked.
"Not unless it's outside in a snowstorm."
The NHL still has its work cut out for it.