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"950 ESPN's Flyers Reporter Mike Mreczko"
Philadelphia, PA • United States • 23 Years Old • Male
Happy Holidays to all of my fellow HockeyHeads out there...

I Wish the best to all into the New Year which, for the NHL, begins at the corner of Clark and Addison for the 2nd Annual Winter Classic--which seems like an oxymoron, but I digress. In a very short time, the W.C. has unquestionably become one of the too few highlights for the NHL (regular season) that really measure up against other big spetacles in sports. The league couldn't be happier with the way the inaugural game went and now try to build on it by bringing the game to a storied venue with storied franchises. The hockey purists of course love it, but we watch the indoor games as well. What the NHL really needs is to use this game--no, more than a game, this event--to reach out to the casual sports fan who the NHL has lost in the last decade or so.

Almost immediately after Crosby scored the game winning-goal in that snowy shootout, radio hosts, television commentators, and the all-important and all-knowing message board posters debated whether or not the WC should indeed be an annual event for fear of it losing its luster. The possibility is there for the Classic to step down in class if not handled with care. So here I offer some suggestions to avoid this and welcome yours as well:

***Change the Date: I realize the merit of having New Year's day be a sort of launch pad for the 2nd half of the season. However, I feel the NHL would be better served by waiting a little while. I vote for President's Day to be when the WC is played. Why go up against several college bowl games and possibly even the NFL? Like it or not, hockey will never compete for ratings with big time football. (Again, we are going for the casual fan!) So let's put it on another day when everyone is off from work but usually stuck in the house and when hockey can truly be showcased by having the sports schedule all to itself for the day.

***Shine the Spotlight on the Stars: Buffalo was a great first host but there was a reason the Penguins were selected as the opponent. No, not to rekindle the flame of an Adams Division rivalry. Crosby, Malkin & Associates were there to get national exposure and the NHL should make sure to continue to do this. Sounds simple on the surface, but this league has been notoriously bad at promoting its stars. Language barrier and other factors may hinder some guys like Ovechkin in commercials, etc but seeing their skills demonstrated on the ice translates in a way everyone can understand. Make sure there are marque names highlighted in all of these matchups, the way Kobe, Lebron and others are for the NBA on Christmas and other days circled on the roundball calendar.

***Build The Ice in a Hot Spot: Hot here using definition #15 from dictionary.com, "popular and commercially successful; in demand; marketable" rather than the traditional usage, "having or giving off heat; having a high temperature." So no WC's at the Rose Bowl. But now that we have seen the set up in a relatively generic football stadium, part of the appeal of the game is staging it at a venue that adds some flair itself. Wrigley Field provides that this year. The NHL should seek similar places in the future as well, sites that people will say "Wow it would be cool to have a game there." In some cases, the NHL could use it as an attraction to make up where a particular team may not seem like a dynamite ratings draw. (More on that in my proposed WC schedule later.)

***Recycling is Good: While having the Penguins in the WC every year could get boring, but don't be afraid to have them back before too long. Assuming this does become a consistently annual event, having Pittsburgh and their stars back in 3 years or so would be fine if they have another good opponent that would provide some juice. Penguins/Flyers at Penn State has been suggested and is a great idea. I wouldn't have a rematch between the Pens and Sabres or between any other teams that play in a WC within the first decade or so as we want to keep it somewhat fresh but again, showcasing stars is important.

***Scattering is Bad: There are certain places hockey works better than others and certainly there are certain places where the WC would work better than others. No offense, but we shouldn't be venturing into Nashville for this. I don't think the Sharks and Senators are going to grab anyone's attention. It may be unfair to certain teams but I follow utilitarian principles and the greatest good for the greatest number for the WC to continue to be a success, and have a trickle down effect to help the rest of the league, is to select the teams and matchups that will get the biggest audience. The Panthers just won't cut it. Well-known teams, big-time players, and big-city markets are necessary ingredients. The NHL already diluted itself by thinking they can make hockey work anywhere. Don't make the same mistake again.

With all that said, I propose the following schedule of WC games to come which factor in popular teams, star players, big markets, fascinating sites, and rivalry flavor as well (each matchup has a different mixture of each):

2010-Capitals vs. Rangers @ New Yankee Stadium- NY / DC markets, Ovechkin and some of Washington's relative unknowns on the biggest stage of them all, Lundqvist and all the names the Rangers will parade in. What a way for the NHL to make up for not getting their act in the old park by getting it in the shiny new one...

2011-Flyers vs. Penguins @ Beaver Stadium- Not just an intra-state game that can easily fill a 107,000 seat stadium, both teams also have fans scattered throughout the country to watch and emerging stars to showcase, plus a healthy measure of bad blood...

2012-Montreal vs. Bruins @ Fenway Park- Old-school rivalry in an old-school house. The Bruins are a perfect example of talented players who need to be showcased on a big stage that the Versus network just isn't providing....

2013-Red Wings vs. Wild @ Lambeau Field- In the interest of adding new facets to this, how about a neutral site game? Here's a real Frozen Tundra for ya. If anyone knows pond hockey its Minnesota natives. I am sure after this year, Red wing fans will be sure to travel again...

2014-Blues vs. Blackhawks @ Soldier Field / Wrigley Field- Kane and the rest of the core in Chicago hopefully sticks around to keep the team interesting for awhile a la Pittsburgh and everyone loves the game this year so much they can't wait to go back. Can St. Louis be worthy of watching by then? I think so. More young guys that people may hear about and want to see live. And if Wrigley is a, ahem, home run of a host bring it back to the Friendly Confines or maybe for more seats try to take it to Soldier Field...

2015-Maple Leafs vs. Penguins @ Heinz Field- Gary Bettman can't get Crosby, Malkin, etc enough exposure and this time we can give the Penguins a home game. Another Canadian team might worry NBC about ratings but by then I would imagine Toronto is a top-notch team again. (Alternative could feature at FedEx Field for the Capitals if they stay strong and keep the juice going they have recently built up or even bring a big-time Western team like San Jose in)...

2016-Dallas vs. Denver @ Invesco Field- Eventually we need to move somewhat west with this, if only just this once to test it out. Decent market sizes and memories of Thorne and Clement calling some great ones when these teams perenially went at it with Detroit in a triangle-tangle for the top of the Western Conference from the late-90s thru the early 2000s. Venue admittedly ain't so hot but if a political convention can charge it up that much, I'm sure a little outdoor puck can get some buzz too...

2017-Rangers vs. Islanders @ Citi Field- Ten years after claiming to have originated the idea of an outdoor NHL game, the Islanders will get their wish. Might this preclude portions of the rest of the country from interest in a NY-only game? Maybe. But the numbers this could do in NY alone would make up for it....

2018-Flyers vs Sabres @ Ralph Wilson Stadium- Bring it back to the place where it all began a decade ago with another team that should still be strong at that time in the Flyers. Again, if the Sabres are stinkers and other teams / venues are more deserving at the time it could be moved. I think FedEx Field would make a good host with 90,000 plus but include a close geographic rival in case Capital-fever isn't strong enough to fill it...

And so we get through the first decade of the Winter Classic. Teams subject to change but criteria not. The NHL must handle its new baby delicately but, like any child star, exploit it as much as possible while you still can. There are many things the league can improve on with its television presentation which, to the general public and casual sports fan, go a long way to being taken seriously as one of the four major sports in the U.S. again, rather than being debated whether arena football should take its place.

Please feel free to add your thoughts or own suggestions...

I always appreciate those of you who take time to read my posts and hopefully you enjoy them. I hope to not be on such a long hiatus next time but as I have not been around the team as much this year due to budgeting, I felt it better to leave the news to those reporting it first hand. I am always a fan though and always looking for ways to boost what truly is the coolest game on earth!
Filed Under:   red wings   blackhawks   blues   penguins   flyers   canadiens  
December 26, 2008 7:12 PM ET | Delete
i think that u hit some good points on this article But. this is a big but.. u are mistaking that no one would really care for the sharks and senators. First off the sens are a canadian team with a huge fan base so if you set it against the rangers for example many people would watch including myself from out west. Now the sharks. I truly believe that the Sharks - Red Wings, or Sharks - Stars, Sharks - Ducks game would draw higher ratings than a Red Wings - Wild Game.You play it in california where hockey is starting to build. for example AT
December 26, 2008 7:13 PM ET | Delete
or we can bless the New (soon to be) A's stadium in Fremont/ San jose area. such that it would give the stadium a great vibe and bring influence to both teams
December 26, 2008 9:36 PM ET | Delete
Add a game at Rogers Centre (Habs @ Leafs) and I will love your system!
December 27, 2008 4:07 PM ET | Delete
NBC wants the game on New years, cause they have NOTHING to broadcast against all the college football gamesIn the end NBC gets what they want, next year no classic due to Olympics
December 27, 2008 11:02 PM ET | Delete
Everything in the NHL is geared towards American TV. Like it or not, Canadian TV doesn't have near the potential revenues that the NHL could have if they could get a foothold in the American market. That's why there is expansion into the sunbelt, and that's why it's not a good idea to have a Winter Classic with only Canadian team. While it would be loved in Canada, it would barely be a blip on the flatline that is NHL ratings in America.
December 28, 2008 10:38 AM ET | Delete
This will sound very nationalistic and upset some fine Canadean fans, but if the WC is a marketing tool for the NHL does it really help to include Canadean teams or relatively obscure teams in the US that have a strong following? Hockey is strong in Canada and needs no help. Indeed, if it were not for Canadean teams, the salary cap might still be in the 30 million range. Teams like the Wild have a strong base as well, but really do not excite the tv audience. Flyers, Rangers, Pens, Black Hawks, Bruins, Wings and Caps (due to the star power) do. Granted they are from big markets, but if this is a marketing tool, that is what you need. They will draw not only from their cities, but from elsewhere as well.
December 30, 2008 10:59 AM ET | Delete
Appreciate all the comments and hope everyone enjoyed the post... I did pour over ALL 30 teams in the league when figuring out what would make good matchups. Like "Patrickj" says and others referenced as well, the Winter Classic more than anything is to boost NHL popularity (read: TV ratings) in the U.S. I don't want to overlook Canada, but TSN etc don't need a ratings boost. Therefore, unless the match-up is very intriguing (such as the old MTL/BOS rivalry) or you have other ways to make up for it, having a Canadian team already sets the ratings back some by not including a big U.S. market as a participating team. Remember the Heritage Classic was not even televised in the States. The Bay Area is a good-sized market and the Sharks could definitely be considered for a game. But will the A's new ballpark generate buzz around the country? Sorry, no. NBC should air figure skating or some Norweigian Ski Championships on New Year's Day and then really own President's Day when ESPN and the other networks will have nothing of their own against the WC. The NHL should push as hard as they can for that as well, but these are the same genuises that schedule half of their national games up against Monday Night Football. If they can't convince Versus to shift a rodeo to a different night of the week, I don't know how much of a shot they have of getting their way with Ebersol and the suits at 30 Rock. As for matchups, again they are flexible and dependent on what teams and matchups are sexy as the games approach. But fans outside of the northeast must realize that the WC first and foremost is to give the NHL an event that is widely watched in a sport that usually translates poorly on TV. I'm interested to see other people's dream matchups and venues....
December 30, 2008 4:40 PM ET | Delete
How could you Leave out Avs Red Wings at Mile high?
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