NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced, formally, the league's plans for the 2011 Winter Classic(s) during his state of the union address before the Stanley Cup Finals begin.
It will be between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, and will be held at Heinz Field, home of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers.
The announcement, which even Bettman joked was one of the league's worst kept secrets, continued to raise eyebrows from the assembled media in Chicago.
And it should.
This coming January's Winter Classic will be the fourth installment of the event which is quickly becoming one of the more popular marketing ideas the league has had in recent memory.
After the first Classic was held on a football field in Buffalo, the league put the event in two of Major League Baseball's great venues: Chicago's Wrigley Field and Boston's Fenway Park.
All three of the previous events have been a wonderful success. However, the league is running an enormous risk both in 2011 and in the coming seasons that follow.
Bettman, after announcing that the game would be in Pittsburgh, then indicated that Washington was also a city that would get a Classic, saying the league planned to hold a Classic in the nation's capitol "in the next two or three years."
And then the NHL wonders why it has issues selling teams in secondary markets.
There are, as far as I can tell, 30 teams in the NHL.
Some teams play in markets where an outdoor game wouldn't make sense; Phoenix or Tampa doesn't make sense for an outdoor ice hockey game.
If it did, Al Gore would have to make a new movie.
So hosting an outdoor NHL event is limited to markets that meet certain weather requirements.
But the 2011 Winter Classic will be just the fourth Classic; by my simple math, that means only eight slots will have been available for teams to play outdoors on New Year's Day* (the league will host a second outdoor game in February in 2011).
With 30 teams available to play in the game, certainly the league wouldn't double-dip already?
In just four games, the Pittsburgh Penguins will play, already, for a second time. And the league formally went on record on Friday saying that the Washington Capitals will play in two games in a three-four year window as well.
Now, there are a number of factors that go into arguing for or against the Crosby/Ovechkin hatred of many fans in the league. Is it the players' game-styles? Personalities?
Or is it that they're the only players the rest of America ever gets to see?
If the league wants to sustain viability in markets like Phoenix, Tampa, or other southern areas, it might be time to give some of the players in those markets the spotlight they have earned.
Fans of Crosby and Ovechkin will undoubtedly spark a "chicken-egg" argument, asking if the players earned the hype of if the hype created the stars; in the cases of Crosby and Ovechkin, it's hard to say which part of that evolution they fall into.
But let's consider for a moment the case for Tampa Bay to get a shot at a Winter Classic.
In the spring of 2008, the Chicago Blackhawks were desperately trying to scratch their way into the playoffs. They would fail to qualify for the postseason, but would impress the league enough with their young talent and organizational direction that Bettman and Co. would put the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field on New Year's Day 2009.
Fast forward a couple years.
The Lightning just added perhaps the highest-profile first-time General Manager in the history of the game, in Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman.
They have one of the league's incredible, exploding young superstars in 20-year-old Steven Stamkos. Indeed, the Lightning are not that far away from being a playoff team.
But the Pens will get a second look on New Year's Day.
There are also great venues that could host the Winter Classic. Think about Columbus, OH. If the league could get Ohio State University, which has a fantastic hockey program right now, to buy into the event, think about a New Year's Day hockey game in the Horseshoe.
How hard would it be to get a game in Columbus with gold medal-winner Rick Nash hosting someone like Stamkos?
Easy. Neil Diamond nailed this one, folks—money talks.
What about "the state of hockey," Minnesota?
They have a brand new baseball stadium that, unlike Heinz Field, won't be in use any time near New Year's Day.
While the Wild would need to add some star power to their lineup to sell the game to the national audience, making the game a spotlight for an electric young team like the Kings of Ducks could open the national stage for great young players like Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar or Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
But the Caps are going to get two shots in the next few years.
And, perhaps most incredibly, if the NFL is going to put a Super Bowl in New York (ok, New Jersey), how is it that the NHL can't get into one of the two new baseball stadium in the city that never sleeps?
Or, heaven forbid, the new $1.6 billion home of the 2014 Super Bowl? You think the Rangers wouldn't love the idea of selling a guy like Marian Gaborik to the nation?
The NHL is doing a lot of things really well right now.
They're doing the best job of utilizing social media and emerging technology to get their underwhelmed fans involved in more than just their local games, and it's showing on the league's bottom line; according to Bettman on Friday, the league's sponsorship revenues are up 50 percent in the last two years, despite a down economy.
But if the league wants to stop answering questions about how teams are going to succeed or stay in markets west of the Mississippi and south of the Mason-Dixon line, they need to promote a third or fourth player all over North America.
Crosby and Ovechkin are great players, but lots of people are sick of watching the same teams.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!