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NHL confirms the Winter Classic is good to go

The annual celebration on New Year’s Day is on track.

NHL Outdoor Classic Buildout Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

In case you were worried about the status of the Winter Classic on January 1st, Bill Daly has some reassurance for you:

“Knock on wood ... full speed ahead.”

See? Everything is fine!

If you’re not convinced, that’s reasonable. After all, the league has postponed all games that are scheduled through the end of the day on December 26th, canceled participation in the Olympics, and has beefed up Covid-19 protocols. Oh, and some Canadian provinces are teetering on the edge of full lockdown while states are eyeballing more restrictions on crowds.

Considering the NHL’s in the process of setting up Target Field for the Winter Classic, there’s really not much the league can say right now other than sure, everything is fine.

“We’re relatively healthy when it comes to COVID vis a vis those two teams,” Daly said of the Wild and Blues. “I obviously hope it stays that way. But I see nothing at this point that gets in the way of us having a fantastic Winter Classic. I think Minnesota is going to be a fabulous host. We’re very excited about the venue. We’re very excited about the experience, and I think all of our fans should be looking forward to it.”

The entertainment value in Daly’s comment regarding the health of the teams notwithstanding, the hubris in saying that there’s nothing that can get in the way of a fantastic Winter Classic seems a bit like fate is being taunted here. Daly goes on to say:

“There are going to continue to be challenges, there are going to continue to be [COVID] positives,” Daly said. “We’re still going to have game decisions to make for the next little while. We look to the experts to kind of give us their best projections as to how this plays out, and I don’t think anybody is suggesting that it’s going down any time soon. We’re up to probably about a quarter of our (NHL) population who tested positive during the course of this year. The good news to that is they’re all fully vaccinated with one exception that I’m aware of, and I think the illness has been quite contained and mild.”

The problem this ignores is clearly public health measures and whatever the state and local health departments have to say about crowds. Right now Minnesota hospitals are postponing non-essential procedures, which isn’t the best sign. It’s unclear what direction the state is headed in when it comes to public health guidance, but it will be interesting to see if the league continues forward and holds the game in front of empty stands.

Would that be worthwhile for the league to pursue?