The NHL Winter Classic is now in its fifth edition, and so far hockey fans have seen two things in regards to the location: All of the games have been played in the United States, and all of them have been east of the Mississippi River.
The league has been ignoring the demands of the Canadian fans for years now, so the first part isn’t a surprise. But by ignoring its western teams, the NHL is ignoring a large demographic and in doing so is missing out on potential marketing and profits, which are exactly the league’s reasoning for moving many clubs to the U.S. in the first place.
At some point, the NHL will have to make a decision to move an NHL Winter Classic game westward as well, and if the league decides to do so I believe that Denver, Colorado would be a good starting point and here are the reasons why.
Relative to their success during their Championship campaigns in 1996 and 2001, the Colorado Avalanche have not been a top NHL team. But they are a team that still has huge fan support not only in their hometown but across the Nation and the world.
The NHL Winter Classic is all about showcasing history and rivalries, and the Avalanche has their fair share. An ideal Winter Classic matchup for the Avalanche would of course be with the Detroit Red Wings. The Avs-Red Wings rivalry is as well-documented and intense as any other in the NHL. Detroit has already played in a Winter Classic game, and is already scheduled to play another, so they too are a team that the NHL has no qualms with as part of its showcase.
The Avalanche could also play the New Jersey Devils. The Devils are the former Colorado Rockies and could wear their Colorado throwback jerseys against the Avalanche donning Quebec throwbacks, creating an interesting team and fan dynamic.
Formerly the Quebec Nordiques, the Avalanche also still have a large following in Canada. Current center Paul Stastny is the son of former Nordiques captain Peter Stastny, and the historical link could provide a good story relating the importance of the franchise to the NHL’s history.
Weather and Venues
So far all of the NHL Winter Classic games have been held outdoors and this seems to be a well-established tradition in regards to the event. Although Denver has its fair share of mild days during the winter, it stays cold enough during the night to maintain ice conditions for an outdoor NHL game.
Colorado is still reeling from the aftermath of being the only site to reject the Winter Olympics in 1976, so the Colorado Sports Commission has been looking for a big winter sports event to fit the bill ever since. The NHL Winter Classic is just the answer they need.
Denver has two viable sites to host a Winter Classic game in Sports Authority Field at Mile High and Coors Field. The league has hosted the Winter Classic at both Football and Baseball stadiums, and in Denver there are both options.
Colorado Avalanche Owner Stan Kroenke is also part of the ownership of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park which could also be a highly probable location for a future Winter Classic Game hosted in Denver.
No matter how much importance the NHL places on the Winter Classic honoring the league’s history, the most important aspect currently surrounding the game is television ratings and revenue.
This could be the argument against moving a game to Denver, but ultimately because of the reasons previously outlined I believe that a Colorado based NHL Winter Classic could actually accomplish the league’s rating and revenue goals.
Additionally, pairing the Avs with a team like the Detroit Red Wings or New Jersey Devils would garner a larger television audience nationwide.
A move to Colorado would open the door for the NHL to move the Winter Classic to other rabid but seemingly unconventional locales such as San Jose, Los Angeles or Carolina. In its current easy-to-predict formula, the NHL Winter Classic is becoming less dynamic (i.e. boring).
For now, all we can do is sit back and enjoy tomorrow's matchup between Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division foes when the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers face off. My bold prediction for this year’s Winter Classic? The winner of this game moves on to win not only the division but will go on the represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.