(Note: I am writing this article before this year’s “Discover Thanksgiving Showdown”, but it is being published after the game.)
Today is a special day on the NHL calendar, as we have the annual occurrence of the league’s dumbest gimmick, the “Discover Thanksgiving Showdown”. For a league with shootouts, 3-on-3 overtime, and somewhere between 10 and 82 outdoor games per year (sorry, I have lost count); it is quite an accomplishment to earn the honor of “NHL’s Dumbest Gimmick”.
Some of you might be wondering, “Wait, I have never even heard of this “Discover” thing. Fair enough. Allow me to explain. “Discover” is a credit-card company that airs the most annoying commercials (“We treat you, like you’d treat you.”) I have ever seen. Somehow, I have lived 37 years, yet I do not recall ever seeing a “Discover” card used in my actual life.
Oh wait, you mean you have never heard of the “Discover Thanksgiving Showdown”. Well, the previous paragraph will nevertheless go over big with all of the American Express employees I know. Anyway, let us discuss the “showdown”.
This game is simply a game on Black Friday afternoon. The game airs on NBC and almost always features the Rangers. In the rare case that the Rangers are not involved, the Penguins and Sidney Crosby are. I cannot find evidence of a 2012 edition of the “Showdown”, but I have evidence of 2011 and 2013-2018 editions of this gimmick. Thus, in five of the seven editions, the Rangers have appeared. As mentioned earlier, the Penguins have had several appearances in this game as well. Meanwhile, the only other teams to have been blessed with the gift of playing in the “Discover Thanksgiving Showdown” have been the Red Wings (back when they were good), Flyers, and Bruins.
You might now be wondering, “Is this game special because it is the only game played on Black Friday?” Nope! There are 15 games being played today, and 14 of them will sadly go unsponsored by the United States’ fourth-most popular credit card. (Yes, I do realize the NHL is, at best, the United States’ fourth-most popular professional sports league.)
“Surely there must be something extra-special about the ‘Showdown’ game, compared to today’s other twelve games,” you must be thinking. Nope. There is nothing special at all. The Rangers and Flyers today are both playing only 1 of their 82 respective games. It carries no more weight than the Islanders/Devils game that will take place later in the day.
The NHL has historically done an excellent job of minimizing national-TV exposure for 75-80% of the league. While the NFL logically realized long ago that it was wise to flex the best teams into primetime matchups, the NHL has made sure that the top matchups always feature a combination of the five afore-mentioned teams, Kings, Blackhawks, and Capitals. Thus, if – Heaven forbid – one of the other 23 NHL teams appears in the Stanley Cup Finals, it can be bad for ratings. Thus, had we ended up last year with a Winnipeg/Tampa Bay Finals (which was possible as of the Conference Finals), the league surely would experienced a ratings disappointment….and that disappointment would have been self-inflicted, given that the league does not care to promote strong teams that fall outside the list of eight “chosen” franchises.
Here is the bright side though. I am a Devils fan, so I experienced seven consecutive seasons (1997-8 through 2003-4) in which the Devils were a top team, in which the Rangers missed the playoffs, but in which the Devils appeared on regular-season national TV only when playing the Rangers. Thus, I know that the Devils will never play in the “Discover Thanksgiving Showdown” nor Winter Classic. I know that their NBC appearances are generally rare typically require the Rangers as an opponent. The bright side though is that I get Erika Wacther over Pierre McGuire during every Devils game, and that is a big-time victory for every Devils fan.
Thus, while the “Discover Thanksgiving Showdown” is silly, and I am perfectly OK with the Devils never being invited to it.