As my departure for the 2012 NHL Winter Classic nears, I can't help but wonder where the NHL will host the next joyous regular season 2-point contest.
I'd like to see the Los Angeles Kings play the Anaheim Ducks on Venice Beach seeing as how the last two destinations failed to provide snow, and at least this way NHL fans can venture to beautiful California—where the 2011 Christmas forecast was 70 degrees and sunny.
Nothing screams National Hockey League like a bunch of babes in bikinis and overweight dudes in sandals!
Onward with the NHL's realistic options for the Classic for the next 10 years...
Seeing as how the reality of the NHL Winter Classic is to generate revenue among big market clubs, my guess is that next Winter Classic will be hosted by the New York Rangers in new Yankee Stadium. As fans will undoubtedly see this coming Winter Classic, the Rangers are a top-seed squad filled with talent both young and old, all backed up with a franchise goalie in Henrik Lundqvist. New York's front office made some offseason moves and inked 26-year-old Captain Ryan Callahan for three more seasons as well as veteran forward Brad Richards to a nine-year, $60 million deal.
The Bruins are a perfect opponent for the Rangers, coming off the amazing 2011 Stanley Cup run only to be back on top in the Eastern Conference for much of the season. Boston's high-powered offense matches up extremely well against the young defensive core and Swedish net minder in blue. And I'm sure there aren't any fans in the country who would mind watching that 6'10'' Slovakian man-eater ruin lives outdoors like a true lumberjack.
However, the Winter Classic will not make the NHL money if two teams are picked at random. Every year, the NHL picks two teams with storied rivalries and a great venue to make a truly extravagant show. No rivalry is greater in sports than New York vs. Boston. Whether it's Celtics-Knicks on the hardwood, Pats-Giants in the Meadowlands, or "Da Yanks & Da Sawks", New York vs. Boston is sure to be a great show.
The state of the art facility finished construction in time for Opening Day in 2009, costing nearly $1.3 billion. The Yankees were kind enough to actually open up the new ballpark to FBS bowl games in the past, so there should be no problem to build an ice rink between Teixeira and Pay-Rod.
I can already tell 2014 will be a fabulous year because by then, hopefully (prayers to Tebow), sports fans will have eliminated all awful sports gossip about Kobe's love life, the Kardashians shackin up with another professional burnout and maybe even all the "Orton or Tebow?" questions will finally be answered. Without all of this "news" engraved in our lives, sports fans can relax and watch a bad-blooded rivalry rekindle the flames.
Feel free to see past all of the recent blashpemous sports talk and venture back to good ol' 1996—a time when Iron Mike couldn't count all of his heavyweight crowns and the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" was at his freshest. Needless to say, sports fans everywhere were sippin on that good good.
In the 1996 NHL playoffs, a beautiful rivalry was born. The Red Wings were in town for Game 6 to hopefully clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Final, but lost winger Kris Draper when he was violently checked into the boards face-first by hated NHL player Claude Lemieux.
Draper needed facial reconstruction surgery and had his jaw wired shut for about five weeks. Over the next seven NHL seasons, the two teams met in the postseason a total of five times, including the infamous "Brawl in Hockeytown"—a game that included nine fights (one between Stanley Cup champion goalies Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon) and 39 penalties racking up nearly 150 penalty minutes.
Since the glory years of the rivalry between Detroit and Colorado, Detroit has managed to make it to the Conference Semifinals three times and Stanley Cup Finals twice—winning one contest in 2008. Aside from a few early exits in the playoffs, the Avalanche have fallen to the bottom of the division. This season, however, they have added many young, talented faces and continue to revive championship caliber hockey in Denver. Look for the Avs to be a future force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference.
Perhaps the best Winter Classic of them all was the 2008 contest between Original Six rivalries Detroit and Chicago at Wrigley Field. In the stadium's 97-year history, there has been only one individual who didn't enjoy his time at the "Friendly Confines" (shoutout to Steve Bartman).
Currently, The Vancouver-Chicago rivalry is just heating up. After a fabulous playoff series in 2011 where the Hawks managed to force an overtime thriller in Game 7 after trailing the series 3-0 and a couple of jokes aimed at the Sedin Brothers ("Sisters"), every Canucks-Hawks meeting is sure to catch hockey fans' attention. Though the Canucks aren't usually compared to the 1970s "Broad St. Bullies" from Philly, a few of their more recent acquisitions are sure to drop the gloves with the "7 foot goon who can't skate" (Roberto Luongo commenting on Blackhawks big man John Scott).
Whether the media-influenced trash talking between the two sides matters to you (to those of you who watched the most recent NY Giants-Jets game: it shouldn't), both teams are absolutely stacked with offense and play the game beautifully.
It is beyond me why the NHL chose to host the 2010 Winter Classic at Heinz Field over PNC Park—especially seeing has how PNC's beautiful setup is only used to generate losing seasons 82 days out of the year. PNC was recently voted top ballpark in the Major Leagues, for a great reason at that. Aside from the great civil engineering feat of only 24 months in construction, the ballpark cost a slim $216 million—over $1 billion cheaper than the new Yankee Stadium.
It's just too bad those who use it haven't had a winning season in almost 20 years.
Aside from the greatness that is PNC Park, the Pens-Flyers rivalry is yet another fabulous one in the league's history. Both teams were welcomed into the league in its expansion in 1967 and have ever since been competing to be top dog in the Keystone State.
Minnesota named itself the "State of Hockey" yet the NHL allowed the relocation of their beloved Minnesota North Stars to Dallas, Texas. Since the move, the Stars tried racking up a championship squad by making numerous big deals—including one that sent then prospect and current All-Star Jerome Iginla to Calgary.
Dallas managed to win the 1999 Cup Finals over the Buffalo Sabres but have since been one of the worst organizations in hockey. If the NHL wants to mix up the Winter Classic, look for a gift to the state of hockey where the exciting new expansion club gets to mingle with the now struggling Stars—especially since the Twinkies landed an awesome new stadium in Target Field.
Hopefully by 2018 the Leafs will have put together a playoff-caliber roster (Lord knows they need it). If so, they can crank open the roof of the Skydome as they did this year for the Bills-Redskins thriller back in October.
Unless the Canadian NHL teams are subject to the Heritage Classic, the Montreal-Toronto hockey rivalry is what the league was built on so look to see these two outdoors in the near future. If there's no snow in Toronto in January of 2018, then global warming is for real.
2019 will mark the 10-year history of the meeting between the Winter Classic between the Flyers and Bruins and, assuming it's is still standing for its 107th year, Fenway will definitely be asked to host again.
Boston is set to host the "Frozen Fenway" this January where eight of the Northeast's best college clubs are set to play over a three-day stretch.
Host of the first NHL outdoor game, Commonwealth Stadium brought close to 60,000 eager fans to see something other than Eskimos football.
In 2003, the Montreal Canadiens edged the Oilers 4-3, but there was not another NHL outdoor contest for five years. Unless the NHL segregates the Winter Classic and Heritage Classic games—which they won't because the hockey gods are all for equality—Commonwealth Stadium could be another future host, especially with the Oilers unbelievably talented, young roster.
Usually rented to losing ways of the Washington Redskins, RFK is now home to the 2021 Washington Capitals-Penguins rematch.
NHL executives hyped up the 2011 Winter Classic meeting like the Super Bowl, yet they failed to check the weather forecast. By 2021, Russian Sniper Alex Ovechkin should be on his last legs (much like Philadelphia's five-time scoring champion Jaromir Jagr in the 2012 Winter Classic), and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby will be long gone due to extensive head injuries.
Even without the Crosby-Ovi rivalry, Caps vs Penguins is one of the greatest rivalries in NHL history and should be considered for future NHL Winter Classic matches—assuming it won't rain this time.
By 2022 Winnipeg fans will have forgotten the fact that they don't have their Jets back, they inherited the Atlanta Thrashers. The Thrashers traded away any and all of the all-star talent that once donned the Thrasher sweater (Kovalchuk, Chara, Heatley, Bondra, Hossa...to name a few), then lost the team completely when the NHL relocated them to Winnipeg.
Winnipeg is a perfect fit for a future NHL Winter Classic, assuming by 2022 the Jets' front office will have held on to a franchise player.