NHL bungled the Oilers versus Flames Heritage Classic

Oct 29, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner (74) leads the team out before the first period in the 2023 Heritage Classic ice hockey game at Commonwealth Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 29, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner (74) leads the team out before the first period in the 2023 Heritage Classic ice hockey game at Commonwealth Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports /

A look at how the NHL handled — or should that be mishandled — the recent Heritage Classic between the Oilers and Flames at Commonwealth Stadium.

The NHL has a history of bungling the promotion of its sport. The logistics were all fine as far as the Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium between the Flames and Oilers went, but it was the marketing of the event that had the NHL tripping over itself and succeeding in spite of its efforts, not because of them.

There is a reason why the NHL is a fifth-rate sport in the US, playing second fiddle to the NFL, NBA, MLB, NCAA, and even NASCAR and lawn bowling.

What the NHL doesn’t seem to realise is that one of the big reasons is they don’t let their stars be their stars. They train the players to give sanitised, vanilla answers in interviews and not say anything controversial. I could easily do an impression of an NHL player during an interview because, in the end, they’re all really the same.

Not to mention the NHL lets lesser players bring down the stars with clutching and grabbing. Most pro sports let the game’s stars be their stars. Sure, NFL and NBA players in particular can come across as arrogant sometimes but let’s be honest, even bad press is good press for the sport. In the end, though, people get tired of watching Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, or Alex Ovechkin say pretty much the same thing with different words in a very sanitised way.

That’s why it becomes headline news when Leon Draisaitl, one of the more emotional players in the game, gets into it with reporters here or here, when he skillfully calls out a reporter for asking him a stupid question.

And let’s not forget the character of Ilya Bryzgalov and his “Why you heff to be mad” video bashing Edmonton’s winter weather, or just a general speck of crazy. The NHL tends to sanitise and censor this sort of thing, even when it’s deserved.

The most recent example of this is the NHL barring Marc-Andre Fleury from wearing a mask that was a tribute to his family and especially to his US Native wife. Why they barred this I have no idea, there’s nothing offensive about it. Ridiculous drama for no reason.

(Editor’s note: Fleury decided to defy the NHL regardless, and wore the mask during warmups ahead of the Wild’s game last Friday night. It will be interesting to see what action the league takes.)

Well, the Heritage Classic had much the same ineptitude from the NHL’s marketing department.

Oil On Whyte
Oil On Whyte /

Want your voice heard? Join the Oil On Whyte team!

Write for us!

We’ll start with the player’s entrance. What exactly was the point in making them walk long distances to the ice? They could’ve just had them walk directly to the benches, but someone had the stupid idea to make the players do a prolonged walk to show them off, even though 75 percent of them are not really marketable players in terms of bringing people to the event.

Then we’ll go with the stupid outfits the players had to wear when they first walked out to the ice just to wave to the crowd, only to go back to the dressing room and put on their equipment. Yes everyone and their dog is aware that Edmonton is a working-class city and the oilfield servicing business is a part of that. What was the point in having the players come out in coveralls and hard hats? Is this supposed to bring tourists to Edmonton? I fail to see how.

The Flames looked equally stupid in white tank tops and cowboy hats. As if no one knew that Calgary is delusional because it thinks that urban cowboys are a real thing (don’t even get me started on how monumentally stupid it is to think you can be a cowboy living in a city that has 1.3 million people in it…..).

Literally the only thing this accomplished was delaying the start of the game, as the players pointlessly changed outfits unnecessarily.

The NHL failed to follow one bit of common sense here – get rid of the fluff and let the game do the talking. Some of the hokum practised at the All-Star game is understandable as the NHL is vying for attention from fans and sponsors, but the Heritage Classic is supposed to showcase the GAME, not the outfits. We didn’t pay to watch a fashion show, we paid to watch outdoor hockey.

From a fashion perspective, the Flames at least were allowed to redeem themselves when they came back in their regular gear, which looked exactly like their usual team colours.

The Oilers, on the other hand, for some reason were forced into wearing gold gloves and shorts. Whose dumb idea was this? Whoever thought of this should be fired. I don’t care if they work for the Oilers or the NHL, fire them.

Gold is nowhere near the Oilers’ colour palette, so what exactly was the point of this? All it did was make the players look like they had butter glued to their hands and thighs. What was wrong with the usual colour scheme of white, blue, and orange to match the logo?

If the Vegas Golden Knights were playing in this game, then you could absolutely see gold gloves and shorts. But all it did was make the Oilers look stupid.

3 players to trade from current roster for a goalie. dark. Next

At least the Oilers won the game, so something good came from it. However, the NHL really needs to get its *radio edit* together when it comes to marketing the Heritage Classic.