2012 NHL Winter Classic: Possible Rangers Opponents for a Yankee Stadium Classic
The 2012 edition of the NHL Winter Classic was barely in the books before fans began discussing and speculating where future Winter Classics should be held.
In recent weeks, reports have emerged suggesting that the Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals are the likely hosts of the next two games, with the Wings getting the 2013 game and the Capitals playing host in 2014. However, these reports are no means a guarantee or an official announcement about matchups for the next two games.
One venue that could be used in the future is Yankee Stadium in the Bronx section of New York, with the New York Rangers as the best bet to be the home team.
Yankee Stadium is currently in a contract to host the Pinstripe Bowl through the 2013 college football season, so we may not get a Winter Classic until 2015 at the earliest.
In addition to having a first-class stadium, New York is also in the largest TV market in America, with 7.4 million homes having televions sets. This means guaranteed big ratings for NBC.
As a die-hard Yankees fan, I was itching to get into my dream world and figure out who the Rangers might host in a possible 2015 Winter Classic in the Bronx. I have no inside information that the game will be there in 2015, but hey, a girl can dream.
Here are six teams who could be strong opponents for the Rangers three years from now.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
The New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox have one of the most famous rivalries in sports, so it only makes sense to take the hockey version of that rivalry and put it on ice for the Rangers to welcome the Bruins to the Bronx.
Also, Boston hosted the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park, where they took on the Philadelphia Flyers. Therefore, it's New York's turn to play at their famous stadium.
Both are Original Six teams, and in 1972, the Bruins defeated the Rangers to win what would be their last Stanley Cup for 39 years. The two teams currently play each other four times per year and will be in separate conferences by 2015, as the NHL's re-alignment plan is set to take effect after this season.
Key players to watch for the Rangers for this game include Brad Richards, who will be halfway through the nine-year deal he signed this past offseason. There is also Brandon Dubinsky, who will be in a contract year and has been improving each season since he joined the Rangers full-time.
For the Bruins, Zdeno Chara, the 2009 Norris Trophy winner, will be 37 years old and nearing the end of his career. The B's captain could be hoping to get into one last Winter Classic before he hangs up his skates, and this would be a great time to showcase him.
David Krejci is another solid player to watch. He has finished in the top three on Boston in scoring for the last three years, and he would only be 28 by 2015, meaning he has a lot of years of good hockey left.
Detroit Red Wings
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
This may not be as likely to happen if the Red Wings host the 2013 Winter Classic, according to the report linked to on the introductory slide. It would be unlikely they get to participate in a third outdoor game so soon after being both a host team and a road team.
However, assuming it doesn't work that way, this would be another good Original Six matchup. Detroit is also in the 11th-largest TV market in the U.S., with 1.8 million homes having televisions.
The Wings have won the last three regular season games against the Rangers, and they generally only play each other once a year. Therefore, this would not be a big rivalry game and an out-of-conference meeting.
At the same time, though, both teams have fanbases that travel well, so the banter between the fans would be interesting to be sure.
In 2015, the Wings will still have star forward Henrik Zetterberg, who is currently an alternate captain for the team. He had three assists in the Wings' 2009 Winter Classic game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Niklas Kronwall will be an integral part of the Wings' defense by this time. He has three 30-point seasons and had a career-high 51 points in 2009.
Los Angeles Kings
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
If the Los Angeles Kings have not been in a Winter Classic by 2015, this would be a perfect time to get them involved. Los Angeles is in the second-largest TV market in America, as there are 5.6 million homes with televisions, so NBC and the NHL would have a potential ratings bonanza on their hands.
The Kings and Rangers have played together on a big stage before as part of this year's NHL Premiere event in Sweden. The Kings won by a score of 3-2 in overtime. However, the Rangers have won three of the last five regular season meetings.
Los Angeles will have plenty of stars to keep an eye on in a potential game. Anze Kopitar has led the team in scoring in each of the last four years and is again on top of the score sheet with 35 points through 39 games.
There is also the defensive duo of Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty, as both have been first and second among Kings defensemen in scoring for the last three seasons. Doughty is the face of the Kings' franchise and would be easily marketable for television audiences.
In addition, Mike Richards would have a chance to be involved in his second Winter Classic. He played in the 2010 edition against the Boston Bruins, but went scoreless in the game.
Richards currently leads LA with 13 goals, and if he can keep up his production over his next few seasons, he will be a star that people recognize and know will be an offensive powerhouse in the matchup with the Rangers.
There are a couple of drawbacks to this matchup. First, these teams do not have a lot of history together, as they are in separate conferences as it is. Also, Los Angeles is in the Pacific Time Zone, so the ratings could take a hit if viewers do not wake up for a game that could start at 10 a.m. PST.
New Jersey Devils
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
This would be a good meeting for a couple of reasons. First of all, Newark—where the Devils play their home games—is only about a 20-minute ride to New York City by car and is about an hour away from the city by train. Fans of both sides would have a strong presence in the stands, which would make for an interesting dynamic to motivate the players.
Also, the Rangers and the Devils do not like each other at all. Devils fans never pass up an opportunity to start a "Rangers Suck" chant at their home games, even if the Rangers are not their opponent. That's how intense this rivalry is.
New York has dominated the Devils in the recent past, winning four out of six regular season meetings last year, as well as their first matchup of 2011-12 back on Dec. 20. The Rangers also have the edge in playoff series between the two, taking four out of the last five postseason matchups. Their most recent victory came in the 2008 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, which was also their last playoff win.
Furthermore, the Devils have never been in a Winter Classic, so if they are able to be a strong contender like they were in the 1990s and early 2000s, they could make a case to be on NBC.
The only star who is guaranteed to still be in New Jersey in 2015 is Ilya Kovalchuk. He will be more than a quarter of the way through his current contract. He was second in scoring in his first season on the team last year with 23 goals and 60 points, and this year, he is currently behind Patrik Elias on the scoring chart with 30 points.
New Jersey doesn't have a lot of exciting players under contract at that time, so their best bet to get more skilled players in time for a Classic would be to give new contracts to young defensive stud Adam Larsson and underrated yet talented forward Adam Henrique.
New York Islanders
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images
Although the Rangers have a strong rivalry with the Devils, their one with the Islanders is also one for the ages, and they should get a chance to showcase it in a Winter Classic.
The two teams have already met four times this year, with the Rangers taking three of the games. The Blueshirts also won four out of five games in 2010-11.
But the Islanders have the edge in postseason history, winning five of eight playoff series with the Rangers.
In a Winter Classic, which would likely be their first one, the Islanders would showcase John Tavares, the first-overall draft pick in 2009. Tavares has been the Isles leading scorer for the last two years and has posted 50 points each season.
Michael Grabner is also deserving of some time in the national spotlight. The 2011 Calder Trophy runner-up signed a five-year contract extension this past May and was third on the Islanders last year with 52 points.
Rick DiPietro will also still be under contract, but since he'll probably be hurt by the time a Winter Classic would come around, we're just not going to go there.
This would be an ideal game if the Islanders could get out of the Eastern Conference basement. They are currently 14th in the conference, and if they aren't able to make the playoffs in the next three seasons, there's going to be little interest in watching them on such a big stage.
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
The Capitals are in the eighth-largest TV market in the U.S., as they have 2.4 million homes with televisions. The Capitals' fanbase has grown as the team has gotten back to being an Eastern Conference powerhouse, so the ratings would be what NBC is looking for.
New York and Washington have split their games so far this year, and in 2010-11, New York won three out of the four matchups.
But in recent years, the Caps have given the Rangers trouble in the playoffs. In 2009, they came back from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Blueshirts in seven games. Last year, they knocked out the Rangers in five games. This could indicate the start of a growing rivalry, and there would already be storylines set if the two teams took it outside.
It's obvious the NHL is eager to get Alexander Ovechkin back into a Winter Classic. Hopefully, he will have turned around his points production by then, as he is on pace for just 69 points this season.
This game will not happen, however, if the Capitals get the 2014 game, as reported in the introduction slide. No team has appeared in back-to-back Winter Classics as of yet, and there is no reason to believe that kind of trend will start.