It’s almost too easy to sit and see that because the Winter Classic, in conjunction with HBO’s special “24/7” is widely accepted as their most successful single-game event. So, like any business who finds a successful model, the first reaction is to duplicate it. In addition to today’s Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, MI at the Big House between Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings and the Heritage Classic in Vancouver in March, the league added 4 additional outdoor games this season, including a game to be held at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Where the NHL losses their site is that more is not better. As we saw with the first Winter Classic in 2008 when Buffalo hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins in a snow-filled shootout affair, is that the casual fan go to see what most hockey players grew up playing: pond hockey. Ok, so it wasn’t actually pond hockey because as anyone who’s played knows, there is no maintenance to the ice. But to see players skating through snow along with the high quality game could not have turned out better for the league. Today’s game in Michigan is forecasted to have substantial snowfall.
But Los Angeles? They’ll be lucky to have ice after the 2nd period (ice in the scientific sense will exist, but hockey quality will be a different story). The other three games will feature the New York Rangers vs. the New Jersey Devils AND the New York Islanders. Yes, the Rangers will get two of these games. The final game will be Pittsburgh traveling to Chicago to take on the defending Stanley Cup Champion, Blackhawks. All potentially great match ups, but these games will offer very little in way of uniqueness.
This year’s Winter Classic will feature Detroit for the 2nd time. Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia Flyers have appeared in the Winter Classic twice before. When you factor Pittsburgh and Chicago in the Stadium Series game along with the two games featuring the Rangers, the Pens and Rangers will have played outdoors 3 times and Chicago will have their 2nd. In 10 total outdoor games, where 20 teams are represented, 5 teams will account for 12 appearances. That’s 60% of the participants of the league’s outdoor games are repeats.
The league has been reducing the price of the Stadium Series tickets on several occasions due to a lack of demand. People don’t want to see the same teams over and over again. There are far too many storylines out there that are being missed. Why not have Florida and Tampa play up north somewhere like Toronto, similar to NFL’s version Hall of Fame game? Of course, for obvious reasons, I’d love to see the Stars in a Winter Classic game against the Minnesota Wild. No, the game does NOT need to be at the Death Star, no matter how bad Jerry Jones wants it. He couldn’t handle the biggest game in his sport, why should he get hockey’s biggest event? The Stars/Wild Winter Classic would need to include Dallas wearing vintage North Stars jerseys (sorry Minnesota folks, we’re still the franchise, we lay claim). You couple the fact that the two teams seemingly have a dislike for each other, stemming back to when Minnesota ousted the Stars from the postseason on the last day of the regular season.
The outdoor games are for the casual fan. There’s no denying that fact. Diehard fans know the elements to the game. Even the NFL, which is supposed to be this tough game, is now played a majority of the time in domes. Speaking of Jerry Jones, the man closes the roof to his stadium when it’s sunny and 75 degrees outside. The league is missing an opportunity, not for more outdoor games, but more participants. The NHL needs to do a far better job at rotating the teams in which they highlight. The owners need to see the favoritism being shown by the league and not accept the old way anymore. Texas is a football state and New Year’s Day is meant for college football here. But, perhaps the league could take a little bit of the market share by displaying the Stars in a special game. Seeing the original 6 teams constantly is getting old. This year, you’ll get a pass, NHL. You’ve got two historic teams playing in some very unfriendly elements. I can guarantee I will not watch the other games. Sunny and 73 for Ducks and Kings? No thank you. Former and current Minnesota franchises who are division rivals? I’d buy that on pay-per-view.