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Where is the Incentive?


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Photo Credit: The NHL

Incentive is defined by Merriam-Webster as being “something that incites or has a tendency to incite to determination or action.” It calls to mind a certain give to receive or a bargaining chip to illicit a response to assuage one side or the other and help in the resolution of a problem. It seemed as though two weeks ago heralded a change in the forecast for the NHL and NHLPA and incentives were at the heart of the issue be it player salaries staying in place or a gradual shift to a 50/50 split while maintaining the integrity and value of all previously signed contracts.

Another incentive would be the national attention and T.V. revenue monies brought forth by NBC and the NBC Sports Network with the first nationally televised game coming on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Another NHL institution over the past 5 years is the Winter Classic, but rumors are flying that as of Thursday Nov. 1st, the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day may be in jeopardy.

The possible cancellation of the Winter Classic is huge. I have stated numerous times that the two heavy benchmarks of when or if this lockout would engulf an entire season would be the first nationally televised game being cancelled (all games through No. 31st are cancelled) and the Winter Classic.

The planing and effort behind the Winter Classic is the key reason it is the ultimate bargaining chip for the owners and players to come together over terms as soon as possible. The horrendous publicity and fan backlash from yet another work stoppage in only eight years has the league in a tight spot. The promotion and exposure of the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day is tantamount to keeping the NHL in the public eye not only on the networks but across other T.V. entertainment outlets.

The 24/7 series on HBO precluding the Winter Classic with behind-the-scenes scrutiny and tell-all idiosyncrasies of a team and its staff have become a staple of the last two years in hockey fans and reporters looking for that personal connection to the game even if it isn’t their team playing in the game. It’s a grand showcase of the heart and grit of a league that survives on the die-hards packing the arenas and the players and coaches that are not the typical superstars that other professional organizations shimmer and dazzle in front of the camera. It shows the lunch-pail attitude and true team efforts of an NHL club and how this translates to on-ice success without the typical prima-donna, me-first instinct that is inherently possessed in many other pro athletes in the MLB, NBA and NFL.

Unfortunately the gauntlet has been thrown and it turns out the attention-starved and highly pouting personages in the NHL are the owners and player representatives. The posturing and positioning and PR campaigning is wearing thin and as its been said before multiple times, the real losers are the ones that support these two sides buying tickets, merchandise, apparel and concessions….the fans. Mark my words carefully as I may be the unfortunate soothsayer of the professional hockey landscape….if the Winter Classic gets cancelled, the likelihood of there being a 2012-2013 season is all but vanished.

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Stay HardCore….