How the NHL can win back its fans

Updated: November 10, 2012, 12:37 PM ET
By Craig Custance

The last time the NHL returned from a lockout, there were plenty of compelling reasons for fans to return. A new salary-cap system promised parity among the teams, eliminating the wide payroll gap between the big markets and the small markets. The new rules promised a game built around speed and skill. There were young stars such as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin ready to seize hockey's spotlight.

Basically, the NHL just had to open its doors and fans were eager to return.

The longer this lockout drags on, the harder it's going to be to repeat that success in fan retention. Although negotiating news from New York gives reason for optimism, even if progress is slower than we'd all like, a winter without hockey might leave only the die-hards in each market waiting when the NHL eventually returns.

But we're here to help.

It will take creativity from the offices of NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins and his staff to thaw any hard feelings among spurned hockey fans reluctant to return, but a shortened season is the perfect opportunity to take risks you might not be comfortable with otherwise. So here are a few ideas to get fans excited about hockey again if the NHL returns, from the far-fetched to the possible. And feel free to add your own in the comments section:

1. Winter Classic doubleheader on Jan.1
I wish I could take credit for this one, but this idea was given to me in an impromptu brainstorming session this week with a scout and a GM. We were lamenting the loss of the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., but realizing why the league had to do it. Breaking an outdoor record at Michigan Stadium along with festivities at Comerica Park was too big an event to throw together in a shortened season. Logistically, it had to be canceled. But if a deal gets done within the next few weeks, it's still possible to hold a less ambitious Winter Classic with fewer movable parts. Maybe two.