Yesterday reports from TSN’s Bob McKenzie surfaced regarding the 2016 NHL Winter Classic and Grandpa Bob says the league is in talks with the Boston Bruins for hosting the annual outdoor battle. If this turns out to be true, this is just another prime example as to how poorly the NHL handles their series of outdoor games and places their greed over dedication to some fan bases.
From just three years (2008-2010) the Winter Classic was the only outdoor game hosted by the NHL. In 2011, not only did the league have the Winter Classic between the Capitals and Penguins but also the Heritage Classic between the Canadiens and Flames. Personally, I have no problem with showing love to a tradition that began in Canada in 2003 but I am glad it is not an every year occasion. The NHL went back to just one outdoor game in 2012 before the nightmare of a lockout in 2013 that forced the cancellation of the yearly event. However, once the league got back on it’s feet with a new CBA, the Winter Classic was promptly announced for 2014 and furthermore on May 1, the league announced a set of several games would be played outside and titled and the “Stadium Series”. So after the New Year’s Day game at the big house, there were four other outdoor games played last season.
So? What’s wrong with all of that?
The Penguins played in the inaugural 2008 Winter Classic and just three years later they were back at it taking on the Caps in 2011. If the Winter Classic was designed to bring the rare element of an outdoor game to the NHL regular season, don’t you think all 30 teams would be interested in playing in the event? So why after using just six teams did the league begin repeating instead of giving another team a go? We know in all reality it was for the sole purpose of having an Ovechkin vs. Crosby matchup on what was becoming the league’s grandest stage during the regular season. All that money is music to the league’s ears. 68,000+ in a football stadium seemed like not only a guaranteed sellout but also revenue galore.
And sure, they were right. The NHL has to be raking in money from all of these outdoor games. Every team has a new jersey and set of getup just for one day and one game. And that’s a ton of products to slap the NHL crest on and sell worldwide.
In 2012 the Philadelphia Flyers joined the Pens as repeat Winter Classic teams when they hosted the New York Rangers at Citizens Bank Park. The repeaters continue as in 2014 the Red Wings took on the Maple Leafs after beating the Blackhawks in ’09 and the 2015 matchup adds to the list as the Capitals and Blackhawks will both be playing in the game for the second time as well. Through SEVEN NHL Winter Classics, there have only been NINE different teams playing in them. What about the other 21 teams in the league?!
That’s what the Stadium Series was designed for, right?
I’ll admit, I loved the first stadium series game. Seeing the Ducks take on the Kings at Dodger Stadium was really cool to see, not only from the aspect of two teams who hadn’t participated in an outdoor game before, but furthermore outdoor hockey in California is just awesome to think about.
After that, the rest of the games were just kind of “whatever” to me. The Rangers, as mentioned, played in the 2012 Winter Classic and then all of a sudden they were playing in two outdoor games in one week in 2014?! What? Sure both games against the Devils and Islanders brought in over 50,000 to Yankee Stadium but it didn’t do much for me as a fan of the game. Count ‘em up though, that’s three outdoor games for the Rangers in two seasons.
Not to be outdone though, the Penguins made sure to keep pace as they took on the Blackhawks in early March at Solider Field. That was Pittsburgh’s third outdoor game. The next day the Canucks took on the Senators in another Heritage Classic.
I think the NHL is doing the Heritage Classic right. Let’s keep that at maybe an every other year thing just to keep the wonderful fans in Canada happy. Obviously they deserve some sort of outdoor festivity since the closest they’ve gotten to the Winter Classic is the Leafs playing the Wings in the Big House in Michigan.
What am I trying to get at?
It’s hard to get excited when there’s more than one outdoor game per year, and I know I’m not alone on that. It’s special when on New Years Day we can feel guilt-free about our hangovers and forget about our regretful decisions of the night before for a few hours when two hockey teams battle it outside. A one-time thing.
Furthermore, in addition to keeping it a one-time thing, let’s get other teams involved. For crying out loud, I live in Pennsylvania and I feel for the people of Minnesota. Known as the “State of Hockey” it’s hard to justify the Wild not being given an opportunity to play a game outdoors. That would be pretty exciting for the fans and I think they would be excited to finally get their turn. 80,000 people at the University of Minnesota to see the Wild take on the division rival Blues? Or perhaps Dallas in attempt to get back at them for taking their franchise?
The league has made it clear they are capable of hosting a game just about anywhere with Los Angeles and San Francisco being two locations in two years. Maybe I’m being a little bold but I would LOVE to see the attendance-struggling Florida Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in a battle for the sunshine state in either Orlando or Miami? You can’t tell me the thought of an outdoor hockey game in FLORIDA wouldn’t catch some people’s eyes. Clearly it did in California. And if a Winter Classic in sunny and 65 can’t save the Cats, maybe it’s time for them to relocate.
The Canadian Press is reporting the NHL would like to host anywhere from “two to six” Stadium Series games next year, with Colorado and Minnesota both being on the list. Additionally, Winnipeg is slated to host the 2016 Heritage Classic.
For now, watch the league’s greed grow by taking away the special aspect of playing outside as the more and more Stadium Series games are added and being played by the same teams.
Thanks for reading!