Prior to the inception of the NHL Winter Classic, hockey fans had the Heritage Classic, an outdoor game played between two Canadian teams. The first Heritage Classic was played between the Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens in 2003, and the second featured a match between the Calgary Flames and the Canadiens in 2011.
While the second Heritage Classic was indeed held last year, the NHL's Winter Classic has seemingly replaced the Heritage Classic as the league’s showcase outdoor game. But since the Classic's inception in 2008, the event has seemingly avoided Canadian teams like the plague.
So what should the solution be for the NHL’s core base of fans (the Canadians)? Should the league make Heritage Classic a yearly event in addition to the Winter Classic? Or should Canadian teams play alongside the American teams in the same annual showcase?
Here are five Canadian teams that we would like to see if the latter becomes the case...
Historically, the Oilers might not have as much significance and clout compared to an Original Six, having joined the League in the 1970s, but the team has enough historical significance to compete in a “classic."
The Oilers are a proud franchise, with five Stanley Cups, and a large part of that was the fact that they were the first stopping point for “The Great One” in his illustrious NHL career. Wayne Gretzky was a member of four of the Oilers' five Championship teams.
Currently the face of the Oilers franchise is Canadian native Jordan Eberle, and he could be a newly marketable face for the Winter Classic a la Sidney Crosby if the Oilers are showcased in the game. A Crosby vs. Eberle game could be a possible matchup for the Oilers.
Fans of the Canucks love the team for their grit on the ice and bringing back clutch and grab to the NHL. The rest of us see the team as a band of goons. Whether it be Todd Bertuzzi or Adam Rome, the Canucks seem to thrust themselves to the forefront of controversy in regards to vicious hits on the ice.
But that’s exactly why they’re a Canadian team we’d like to see in the Winter Classic. Controversy means ratings for the NHL, and that’s exactly what the League is looking for in a Winter Classic.
A rematch of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals between the Canucks and the Original Six franchise Boston Bruins would ignite talk around the water coolers the next morning, and subsequently fill the pockets of NHL and television executives.
OK, so maybe putting the Calgary Flames on a list of Canadian teams we’d like to see in the NHL Winter Classic is cheating a bit. Because true hockey fans know the franchise started out as an American franchise in Atlanta.
But as soon as the team moved to Calgary it made Canada proud, winning the cup in the 1988-89 season and briefly interrupting the dynasty of their more Northerly Alberta rivals, the Edmonton Oilers.
The Winter Classic could feature an all-Alberta pairing of the Flames and the Oilers, or a rematch of that all-Canadian Stanley Cup Final between the Flames and the Canadiens.
All I know is that it would be pretty exciting to watch the high flying offensive talent of Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay and René Bourque in a Winter Classic game.
So far the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs are the only two Original Six franchises that haven’t played in a Winter Classic to date. This further exemplifies the perceived bias against Canadian teams competing in the event.
So maybe the past decade has been one of futility for this franchise. But there is no denying its importance to the NHL. The Canadiens have a huge following as the last Francophone and Quebec based NHL franchise. The team has also won a record 24 Stanley Cups in its history.
So it’s no longer possible to watch a blood match between Gordie Howe and Maurice Richard. But a Red Wings-Canadiens Winter Classic would be a great way of honoring one of the league’s old historical rivalries.
But a Franco-Anglo grudge match between the Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs would be even more likely, as the bad blood continues to exist even to this day.
Not only does the team share its name with a National Symbol of Canada, the team itself has been a quasi-national symbol in its own right.
The Leafs have won 13 Cups in their franchise history, but have been historically futile since the 1967 NHL merger. But this only adds to the mystique of the team and the voracity of their fan base in the same vein of say the Chicago Cubs.
As stated previously the Habs-Leafs rivalry is the most storied in the NHL, and yet another rematch during an outdoor Winter Classic game would truly make it an instant classic indeed.
Right now the Maple Leafs are a team with buckets full of young talent and potential on both offense a defense, so maybe if we see the current team mature and start to make waves with a few deep playoff runs, they would be a shoo-in as a candidate for a future Winter Classic game.