Fans react to Winter Classic cancellation with disdain

703400.jpg

Fans react to Winter Classic cancellation with disdain

Hockey fans are both the smallest and most loyal fan base in the four major pro sports.

Theyve returned to the NHL in record numbers since the league reached its nadir in calling off the 2004-05 NHL regular season due to labor issues, the first pro sports league to call off an entire year.

But they returned to a faster, sleeker, more exciting NHL and helped build the league up to a 3.3 billion business last year. The fans supported outside-the-box initiatives like the Winter Classic and the HBOs 24:7 series and the league managed to wrangle itself a 2 billion deal television deal with the NBC Sports Network despite meager national ratings compared to the other three leagues.

But with the NHLs expected Friday afternoon announcement that the Winter Classic game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs has been cancelled, the NHL and NHLPA have finally drawn blood in negotiations. It seemed that the collective hockey world barely blinked at the first two months of the NHL regular season being cancelled. After all its the least profitable quarter of the regular season and most of the problem NHL franchises (Florida, Phoenix and New York Islanders etc.) are saving more money whacking games rather than playing to empty houses.

Its a bloodless calculation of business and leverage for the NHL owners and a jihad-like fight for rights for the NHLPA, and theres been no middle ground achieved at this point. The big losers are the arena-area business ownersemployees and the fans deprived of league leadership working on faith, long-term vision and a genuine love for the game. But the oft-abused fans are perhaps reacting a little differently than they did eight years ago when the NHL imploded an entire year, and that should be a major, major worry for the NHLs bean counters.

The ticket-purchasing public isnt angry for the most part. Theyre not ranting and raving like puck-head lunatics. Instead theyre equal turns apathetic and uncaring, and theyve simply turned the page on the NHL to other things. Maybe its the NBA or the NFL, or maybe its an up-and-coming sport like MLS soccer.

Maybe its something else entirely in the Internet age where there are so many more alternatives for people with disposable income. But whatever the case it looks like the hockey fans are washing their hands of the NHL, and those are the casual connoisseurs that have built the league into a burgeoning revenue monster. That should be a prime concern for the NHL because those are the kinds of fans that wont return to the game when it finally does return next year, two years from now or five years down the road.

Heres a sampling of the fan reaction sent to my twitter account after multiple reports came down that the Winter Classic was about to get squashed:

@Beantownswifty: Not shocked that the Winter Classic is cancelled... @NHL is showing its true colors and its a disrespect to the fans.

@jbehindtheglass: For me, it's sobering; a mirror of the society it provided a distraction from. The "greatest fans" are sheep with wallets.

@eheels10: I guess apathy, because I just don't give a darn about the NHL anymore.

@papakav1: Disgust, will now spend the dollars on college, jr, and prep hockey. No time left for NHL.

@KnobbyBurton: It's disappointing but on the bright side it will give me more free time to start watching TheWire and BreakingBad

@SOURCE_FRIAS: I think after todays announcement a lot of die hard fans will be at the "Who cares anymore" mood as I am.

@gorskic: Repeating myself: This seasons Winter Classic was as good as cancelled the day it was announced. Resigned. Frustrated.

@The_Real_StephK: At this point, apathy. This league will never grow to its potential if this is how little they care about their fans.

@crowleyrules: the seasons probably lost. I had a root-canal'd molar extracted earlier, but the nhl has officially ruined my day.

Listen up, NHL. Those are your ardent fans and theyve been driven to the point where they dont care anymore. Coming off the stoking of those lockout flames eight years ago, something you dont want to do is see how far you can push before it ends with a permanently fractured league.

Curran: Texans perfectly positioned to slow down Brady and the Patriots

patriots-texans-brady-clowney-011517.jpg

Curran: Texans perfectly positioned to slow down Brady and the Patriots

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady’s completed less than 50 percent of his passes in 14 of the 273 games he started and finished. The Patriots are 6-8 in those games. Among the 14 are three games against Rex Ryan’s Jets, including two in 2013 and the second game of the season in 2009. There’s also the 2015 AFC Championship against Denver, the playoff win over the Texans last year, and the season-opening loss to the Chiefs this year.

The common denominator in those six games? Outstanding defenses with coordinators and personnel that new Brady well and -- in all but the win over the Texans last January -- a dearth of wide receivers.

MORE PATRIOTS

Every year there’s a search for the BLUEPRINT!!! for slowing down the Patriots offense and making Brady look mortal. Google “blueprint for beating the Patriots” and you get 370,000 results. Many of those say the 2007 Giants crafted it first. Few of those mention praying for dropped interceptions and helmet catches in the final two minutes.

The most sure way to slow down the Patriots offense is to have really good defensive players who can bring pressure and (this is the key) hoping the Patriots are banged up at wideout and can’t do their usual damage in the middle of the field.

That’s your blueprint. And it’s in place this week. This isn’t saying the Patriots will lose to Houston, who I’ll wager won’t produce more than 10 offensive points. But I’ll also bet you straight up that Brady completes fewer than half of his passes against Houston.

No Edelman, Gronk with a groin, Danny Amendola coming back from concussion and Brandin Cooks still getting adjusted will leave the Texans knowing their key to success is jamming the middle and making Brady work outside.  

The Texans were fourth in the NFL in yards per attempt last season (5.83), second in passing yards allowed per game (201), first in first downs allowed per game (17) and second in completion percentage against (58.68).

Brady knows what’s coming. He talked about it earlier this week on WEEI with Kirk and Callahan, saying, “They were the No. 1-ranked defense in the league last year. I don’t think I completed many passes in that game, either. I think I was below 50 percent. They just did a good job of putting pressure and when you put pressure, the ball has to come out quick and they had a lot of guys in coverage, too. It was just tough to get rid of it quick. The one positive we took out of that game was we made a lot of big plays. Some teams are going to decide to take away some shorter throws, and they give up longer plays. I think we had seven plays over 20 yards in that game. We moved the ball pretty well. It just didn’t look super rhythmic."

The Texans were able to get pressure and drop a lot of guys in coverage because they have exceptional talent up front.

Brady broke down the Texans’ front on Wednesday, starting with J.J. Watt, saying, “Earlier in his career you used to kind of get a bead on where he’d be, [which] could help you out a little bit. But now they move him so much he’s going to really face every guy that you have up front. [He’ll] be on both sides, be inside, be outside. They run a lot of games. They’ve got a lot of scheme stuff that they use to try to get their guys free in the front, but all of those guys are exceptional athletes. J.J. is an incredible player. He’s been Defensive Player of the Year (three times). He’s got speed, quickness, power, he’s got all the moves, got all the counters. He’s just a tough guy to block.

“Then you pair him with Whitney Mercilus, who’s one of the most underrated players, I think, in the league in terms of rushing the passer to everything that he does to help that team. I know practicing against that guy how good he is. And then with Jadeveon [Clowney], he’s one of the most athletic guys in the league. He does some things that other people can’t do. He’s just size, speed, explosiveness. So all those guys on the same field at one time is a big problem for any offense. You don’t want to be holding the ball too long because you know that they’re going to get home at some point and I think that means we’ve got to really stay on track. We can’t have many negative plays. We’ve just got to play a really consistent kind of football for the entire game.”

The Texans are in a little bit of trouble at corner this week. One starter, Kevin Johnson, is down with an MCL and Johnathan Joseph will be playing with a shoulder injury that forced him from last week’s game against the Bengals.  

The Patriots made it look easy last week against the Saints, which caused people who’d been pointing out Brady was BORN IN 1977!!!! stare at their shoelaces for a few days. But they’re just resting because they’ll be back Sunday evening and into Monday with the same “old” song, ignoring the facts of the case.

The facts are that Brady -- with a full complement in the playoffs last year and the Texans missing J.J. Watt -- had his hands full to the tune of a 47.37 completion percentage, the lowest completion percentage in 34 career playoff games. Without Edelman in this season's opener (and losing Amendola midway through), he completed 44.44 percent of his passes -- fourth-worst among games he started and finished.

The key in this one could be Cooks. As Brady pointed out, the Texans yielded some chunk plays. Cooks, who’s got speed to spare on the outside, will likely be looking at press coverage that -- if he can be beat it -- will give him a chance to run under some Brady duck-and-chucks. And there will be some of those.

Texans head coach Bill O’Brien -- whose defense is run by former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and former Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel -- isn’t looking at the KC game as a blueprint. He’s looking instead at the 27 points scored and the points left on the field by New England.

“When I look at their offense, obviously they didn’t win the game, but there were several things that they did in the game that were very good,” said O’Brien. “They’re a very dangerous team on offense. They play fast. They play with great efficiency. They have a different game plan every week, different personnel that they’re using and so, it’s difficult. You don’t really know what to expect. The combination of Tom and Josh [McDaniels], the brains behind that offense, it’s hard. It’s hard to deal with that and we’re just going to have to see what it is when the game starts and do the best we can to keep up with what they’re trying to do and go from there.”

The Patriots offense knows generally what’s coming from Houston and vice versa. The Patriots won’t be “rhythmic” and there will be balls skipping in the general vicinity of where Brady hoped a receiver would be when he let it go with Watt or Mercilus bearing down on him. Bet on it.

CSNNE SCHEDULE