This smacks a little of the NHL's tendency to kill whatever golden goose they manage to find. The Winter Classic on New Year's day has proven very popular. The 2009 outdoor game even managed to produce some exciting hockey when the Red Wings and Blackhawks met at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
However, they've left the January 1 date alone. Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins will host Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The Flames and Canadiens will meet at McMahon stadium February 20, 2011.
The Heritage Classic has been resurrected not to dilute the outdoor hockey product, but as a sop to the Canadian fan who feels they don't get equal billing from Bettman and the NHL. The Canadiens and the Flames obviously don't need some sort of outdoor spectacle to build the game in their market. Canada is already pretty hockey saturated.
Still, the Canadian hockey fan sees an NHL that couldn't get out of Quebec City or Winnipeg fast enough, yet bends over backwards trying to keep dead markets like Phoenix alive. These fans are not feeling the love they believe their ticket, sweater purchases, and TV viewership numbers deserve.
The southern Ontario hockey market, which could easily absorb another couple teams that would sell out for the next ten years, also got their feelings hurt as they were rejected, right along with Jim Balsillie, when the NHL decided "no" owner for the Coyotes was better than Balsillie in Hamilton.
So, at no cost to themselves, and likely with little dilution of the value they've found in the Winter Classic, the NHL has thrown a bone to Canadian hockey fans on the verge of realizing they were never going to get a Winter Classic of their own on New Years Day.
Look for the Maple Leafs to get an outdoor game once they become a team that even people in Canada want to watch.
Perhaps they'll play that game in Hamilton.
The only thing the NHL should fear is a February Chinook, like the one that blew into Calgary in mid-february of the 1988 Olympics. The dust storm, high winds, and 20 degrees Celsius temperatures (68 degrees Fahrenheit) that chinook brought would play merry havoc with any February outdoor hockey game the NHL would like to play.
Barring a Chinook, it looks like Montreal has their second outdoor game, putting them up there with Penguins as the only team to participate in two of these events.
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