Finally after much begging, speculation and debate the Detroit Red Wings were finally awarded the Winter Classic. The NHL finally righted a wrong by giving Detroit the game they should have already had years ago. They did go the extra step by finally including a Canadian team to the game. An outdoor Detroit Red Wings vs Toronto Maples Leafs matchup is a hockey purist's dream.
The event will be spread out between events at Comerica Park in Detroit and the Winter Classic game at the University of Michigan’s football stadium, The Big House. Between the two venues there will be everything from youth games to minor league games. The hugely popular Great Lakes Invitational, which will pit college teams Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech and Western Michigan will move outside this year as well.
The goal for having the game at The Big House will be to beat the attendance record for a hockey game. Michigan and Michigan State played an outdoor game that saw just over 104,000 fans fill the stands. The league is hoping to pass the 115,000 mark.
Now that the game has been announced there are some burning questions that need to be answered. Of course one of the biggest questions has already been answered: Yes, they will be allowed to sell beer
This offseason, the current contract between the players and owners will expire. One would hope that the debacle over the last contract negotiations and the lost season of 2004-05 will not happen again. We could hope that they have learned a lesson from that disaster but the same was thought going into those talks, as they lost half a season due to the prior negotiations.
The first shot in the battle has already happened. The league owners had agreed to a new schedule and reconfiguring the divisions. After the owners agreed, they passed it along to the players for them to sign off on. The players eventually turned down the proposal. Now there seems to be two schools of thoughts on these events.
The first is that the owners were trying to pin the players into a corner. They approved their idea, announced it to the world then expected the players to just give the OK. If the players rejected the plan then they would look bad to the public. The owners essentially forced their plan onto the players.
The second view is that scheduling issues are not up to the players. They have never approved a schedule in the past and while there was reorganization as part of this, it basically came down to having a balanced schedule. The owners were simply giving the players a chance to have a say in it, even though they were not required to.
Either way, the player’s refusal to go along with the plan sets the negotiations off on the wrong foot. Ideally it is just a quick bump in the road and the season will start as planned. But one has to wonder what tone this will set.
If the two sides could not agree to one of the simpler issues then how will they handle some of the stickier ones? We can only hope egos, greed and stupidity stay out of the way and that the two sides come to a deal that doesn’t delay any part of the season.
It’s a safe bet to say that Nicklas Lidstrom will be playing in an outdoor game. The big question is if it will be the alumni game or the main event?
The past several offseasons have seen fans of the Red Wings hold their breath waiting for Lidstrom to announce his return. Luckily, he has decided to hold off his retirement each time. He will be 42 before the end of this season. The inevitable end to his amazing career is close. Will he hold off one more year in order to play in such an epic game?
As usual he does not divulge many clues. Mlive.com come quoted him as saying
"It (Winter Classic) is only one game, but it's an intriguing one," Lidstrom said. "We'll have to wait and see."
For what it's worth, he added, "I think it's going to be an unbelievable feeling to walk through that (Michigan Stadium) tunnel and play a hockey game."
The optimist will read between the lines and believe that he will be back to play another year. Beyond that one game, he could also be chasing yet another cup and either a record tying or breaking Norris Trophy award.
Steve Yzerman has already come out and said "At this time I don't plan on participating in the alumni game but hope to watch the Classic on TV.”
Former teammates Kris Draper and Brendan Shanahan have admitted that they will try to talk him into playing.
It is hard to imagine Yzerman not playing in this game. It is too big of a game and too important to the city and region to think that he would not play. He was the heart and soul of this team for over 20 years, and an alumni game just would not be right without him.
As big as the league is hoping this Winter Classic will be, it is not out of the question to think that league Commissioner Gary Bettman will make a personal call to Yzerman asking him to participate.
The league sets the prices and handles the tickets for the Winter Classic games. Past Winter Classic games have been priced well above a normal regular season game.
While the Southeast Michigan region is full of die hard hockey fans, they have also been the hardest hit in this economy. With Toronto being close, plenty of their fans will also be in attendance. But the league needs to be careful not to price the local fans out of the game.
Will the league over charge for tickets which will hamper local fans ability to attend the game? One would hope that due to the extremely large stadium that the league will lower the prices and make their money in the pure quantity of the tickets that they will sell.
When you put two of the most tradition laden teams in the history of the game against each other, an alumni game would feature a who’s who of hockey history.
There are many players from both sides of the fence that have already proclaimed their desire to play. There is even speculation that there could be two alumni games in order to accommodate all the players.
The Red Wings have an alumni team with over 40 players who play charity games throughout the year. That roster does not include the likes of Sergei Fedorov, Kris Draper, Darren McCarty, Chris Osgood or Brendan Shanahan, just name a few.
Toronto will be able to have players such as Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Mats Sundin, Darryl Sittler, Al Iafrate and Curtis Joseph as just some of the players they could tap to play.
With such marquee names, tickets for that game will be a very hot sell as well.
A tradition of the Winter Classic has been for both teams to wear some type of new sweater. Some teams have gone 100 percent old school by pulling out a jersey from their past, while others have taken a blending of an older design with some updates.
In 2009, the Red Wings went old school and brought wore the uniforms from the 1926-27 Detroit Cougar squad. The winged wheel has been the team’s logo for the vast majority of its existence and while there have been some tweaks, it is basically the same great design.
Will the team pull out something completely new? Would they break out the 75th anniversary throwbacks from 1992 or perhaps pull something out from the Detroit Falcons era?
This is Toronto’s first time in the Winter Classic. They have put out several different logos, designs and colors throughout the years and ditched their trademark blue for green during St Patrick’s Day in 2002.
The teams have played each other for the Stanley Cup seven times. Perhaps they will decide to pull out one of those jerseys.
Based on past Winter Classics, we will have to wait until later this fall before the announcement is made. We could get lucky though, as they normally do not announce the participants until the summer. However, they went ahead of schedule this year. Hopefully they will not keep us waiting for too long.