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Did the NHL make a mistake not postponing tonight’s game in New Jersey?

Dec 26, 2010, 10:47 PM EDT

Toronto Maple Leafs v New Jersey Devils

It’s odd when the weather is discussed so much for a game that 99.9% of the time is played indoors, but with a snowstorm slamming the northeast games in Long Island and Newark, New Jersey came directly under fire from mother nature. The Islanders petitioned the league to get their game postponed and were turned down, meanwhile the Devils game went off without the league seemingly taking the conditions outside into account.

While the weather was bad in Long Island, things seemed to be worse (or at least taken more seriously) in New Jersey. Throughout tonight’s game as the Devils dropped a 4-1 decision to the Maple Leafs, the snow piled up and the winds blew fiercely causing Newark Airport to shut down, New Jersey transit service in Newark to shutdown at 8:30 this evening, and a state of emergency declared in New Jersey because of the snow.  If that sounds bad for the NHL, it does.

Tonight’s attendance at Prudential Center was announced as being 5,329 but as you can see from the photo above, that’s a pretty generous amount. Given what was going on outside the arena, was it right for the game to have even been played tonight? We’re thinking it wasn’t and for obvious reasons.

First off, the safety of the fans that did make it to the game is put in great danger. Because those tickets cost so much money, some fans feel pressured to go to the game so they don’t end up wasting that money spent. That leads to them either taking a bus, train, or driving to the game and then taking a chance with their safety or, as what happened tonight, losing a method of transportation home. Imagine what would happen should someone get in a serious car accident or end up stranded in Newark all because they didn’t call the game off. That makes for horrible publicity and something the NFL took very seriously in postponing Sunday night’s game in Philadelphia until Tuesday.

Another thing to keep in mind is the safety of the teams, notably the visiting Maple Leafs. The Leafs bus got stuck in the snow after the game on their way back to the hotel. The team’s flight out of New Jersey was canceled thanks to the weather. The Leafs play again on Tuesday back in Toronto so getting back home in time for that isn’t an issue. If they had a game tomorrow, however, that would’ve made for a major problem. The Devils don’t play again until Wednesday at home against the Rangers.

That attendance number is miserable and completely understandable from the fan’s perspective. No one wants to go out when the weather is that bad and for anyone who bought tickets to the game, it’s a colossal waste of money for them to not go. Just think, if you took your family to the game you’re looking at eating a few hundred dollars worth of tickets. Factor in the transportation issues and there’s very little reason for fans to even want to go and given that some of those problems didn’t pop up until the game was already under way there’s no telling how many fans were literally left in the cold by taking a chance in even going to the game.

Finally, how happy do you think the Devils were to have to play a game tonight with such a small crowd? That puts the bite on them to bring in the full staff of security, maintenance, and concession workers to babysit a small gathering of fans. That means paying them for their full shift of work and likely not turning a profit on the night in beer, food, and merchandise sales. If you’ve got 18,000 fans there that’s one thing. If it’s just 5,000 that makes for a brutal financial loss on the night. The Devils did a nice thing for those fans that did show up by inviting everyone to come sit in the lower bowl of the arena, but that’s more to help make things look nicer on television.

The NHL’s view on things is that the teams are both there, the teams are both ready to play so they should play the game. Again, we understand that perspective on things and we know that the NHL schedule is so packed and demanding that figuring out another day for the Devils and Maple Leafs to make up the game would be very difficult. But it’s not an impossible thing to do and for the sake of the fans and the host team, common sense should’ve suggested postponing the game.

Saving everyone a world of trouble is worth it over putting the fans in danger and ruffling the feathers of the home team. The NHL should’ve taken a page out of the NFL’s playbook of operations and told the Devils (and the Islanders) to take the night off and figure out how to reschedule the games. While that would make for a temporary inconvenience, it sure looks a lot better than looking like you’re not taking the safety of the fans into consideration.

  1. stakex - Dec 26, 2010 at 11:19 PM

    Lets get this strait: The NHL did NOT put any fans in danger. If you go out in a blizzard and get killed trying to make it to a hockey game… its your own damn fault. Its not like the NHL put a gun to your head and forced you to show up. Its about getting the game played, and not having a schedualing nightmare to deal with. If the fans want to try and make it, thats THEIR decision and they are responsable for the outcome of their trip. I sware, is their no personal accountability in this world anymore?

    From a financial point of view should the game possibly have been canceled? Sure. But then again, its not like the Devils are drawing huge crowds these days anyway. I mean who wants to pay money to watch them get blown out night after night….

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