That is, as long as everyone in Hockey Nation doesn't waste time tsk-tsking about the endless exposure for Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, Dan Bylsma and Bruce Boudreau, Mario Lemieux and Ted Leonsis.
Dear friends in hockey: Even if the Caps and Pens are only playing for the same amount of points Nashville and Columbus battled over Wednesday night, embrace the hysteria. The NHL may never get the chance again to tap dance on a grander stage. Even if you don't have a skin in the game, even if you don't care about the Capitals and the Penguins, we're all in this together.
Yes, that means you -- local beat writer, used to sitting down with Kris Letang or Mike Green one-on-one whenever you wanted, but now can't turn anywhere for the next four weeks without bumping into an HBO boom mic. Yes, this means you -- hockey fans, bound to be tempted to call the NHL office or e-mail the network to stop the madness. Yes, you -- respected national hockey columnist, poised to go grumpy because the spotlight is off dozens of other deserving hockey players.
Resist the temptation to squawk (yes, I mean me). Instead, do your part. Throw your arms around the spectacle. Tell your friends who don't "get" hockey to DVR HBO's "24/7" four-part series on the Winter Classic. They're bound to see something (or someone) they can connect to. Maybe they'll take an indoor game in some day.
Forgive me for being so Pollyannish this first Thursday in December. This is a subject I feel strongly about. A year ago, I had the privilege of covering my first Winter Classic for FanHouse. Back then, I would have had no trouble chirping about anything I didn't like. Then I spent the better part of 48 hours at Fenway Park before, during and after the Bruins-Flyers game, and loved every second of it.
Time will tell how big the 2011 Classic gets, but make no mistake, this is a moment for the NHL and anyone who cares about the league. The Winter Classic at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, featuring the game's two-and-only brand names -- no, young Mr. Stamkos is not a brand ... yet -- could be a game-changer as network contracts are negotiated over the next six months. The HBO series will not be "The Sopranos," "Boardwalk Empire" or even "Hard Knocks" with the Jets, but it's going to be our HBO series. If everyone plays their role -- for most of us, that's simply watching the darn thing -- perhaps there will be another one. Heck, they continue to roll out these documentaries on some boxers I've never heard of, so hockey has a chance.
When you get down to it, only the Penguins and Capitals organizations are being inconvenienced here. Based on my conversations with executives and players from both teams, Pittsburgh and Washington know exactly what they've got themselves into. The teams are not just "dealing" with all the lights, cameras and action, with the leadership of GMs Ray Shero and George McPhee -- neither me-me gentlemen by any stretch -- they're learning to love the experience.
The rest of hockey should take their lead. That means everybody.
Heroes of the Week
Just about every NHL team is hosting a Toy Drive around the holidays, but the Atlanta Thrashers have a nice touch to theirs. The toys that fans bring to Thrashers games between now and Dec. 19 will be donated to Operation Home Front Georgia, which assists families of area service members and wounded warriors. The toys will go to children whose family members are not with them during the holidays because of their military obligations. To thank the fans, the Thrashers will provide complimentary tickets to future games for fans bearing gifts.
-- One good player, one good team, one really bad fit: Nikolai Zherdev and the Philadelphia Flyers.
-- The rise and fall of the St. Louis Blues before the 25-game mark says less about John Davidson's team than it does about how long the NHL regular season is. The Blues should still make the playoffs.
-- Could it be ... is it really possible Lou Lamoriello will stand by John MacLean through thin and thinner this season? If so, good for the general manager.
-- Tough not to be happy for Rick Dudley. The Atlanta GM is an open book, a hockey lifer who'll talk about the game for hours with anyone. Back in August, he told anyone who'd listen that he was leaning towards Dustin Byfuglien playing defense for the Thrashers. Most laughed. Dudley is laughing now.
-- Hockey lost a major advocate and reporters lost a dear friend when Jim Kelley passed away on Tuesday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. The 61-year-old Kelly, who wrote columns for Sports Illustrated and Sportsnet until the final week of his life, was perhaps best-known for his years covering the Sabres for the Buffalo News. He received the Elmer Ferguson Award from the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004 and is to be inducted into the Sabres Hall of Fame next month. As someone who worked with him on both sides of the business, I can tell you Jim Kelley was a kind man and diligent professional. He will be greatly missed.
-- NHL Elite Four -- 1. Washington 2. Detroit 3. Philadelphia 4. Pittsburgh
-- NHL Bottom Four -- 27. Toronto 28. New Jersey 29. Edmonton 30. Islanders.
-- Today's Three Stars -- 1. Brett Hull 2. Mark Howe 3. Syl Apps, Jr.