Since the addition of the Winter Classic during the 2007-2008 NHL season, the league has two big events to look forward to each year.
The second, of course, is the NHL All-Star Game.
Both come with a fair amount of hype and give fans the chance to see some of the most outstanding players in the game.
How do these two marquee events stack up against each other? Do you look forward to one as opposed to the other?
Enjoy the slideshow, and let me know what you think.
The NHL's first official All-Star Game was held in the 1947-1948 NHL season.
Prior to that, All-Star Games were periodically held as charitable events. For example, the Ace Bailey Benefit game in 1934 was held as a fundraiser for Bailey, who was seriously injured on a hit from Eddie Shore.
The NHL tends to award All-Star Games to cities for significant reasons. In 2009, the Montreal Canadiens hosted the game at the Bell Centre to coincide with the Habs' 100th anniversary festivities.
Recently, the league announced that the Ottawa Senators would host the 2012 game at Scotiabank Place. This will tie in with the 20th anniversary of the Senators returning to Ottawa, which happened in 1992.
The Winter Classic, meanwhile, was introduced in the 2007-2008 season. The first Winter Classic was played between the Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins in Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills.
Initially, the NHL was not sure if this experiment would work. However, the game sold out extremely fast and garnered the highest TV rating for a hockey game in 33 years.
The NHL decided to make the Winter Classic an annual event.
The NHL All-Star Game is held in arenas across the league, which usually seat up to about 20,000 people.
However, the Winter Classic is a whole different animal. It is held in stadiums that can seat double the people a typical NHL arena can.
Take a look at the capacities of the last three All-Star Games against the last three Winter Classics:
Winter Classic Venue Capacities
Ralph Wilson Stadium (2008): 73,967
Wrigley Field (2009): 42,157
Fenway Park (2010): 36,974
All-Star Game Venue Capacities
American Airlines Center (2007): 18,584
Philips Arena (2008): 18,545
Bell Centre (2009): 21,273
While NHL fans are constantly comparing and contrasting the various teams' home buildings, nothing beats sitting among as many as 70,000 other hardcore fans taking in a game. There is often more festivities and more intensity in the air.
Furthermore, the NHL loves making money and setting attendance records and an outdoor game is more likely to do that than an indoor game, for obvious reasons.
However, every venue is unique in its own way, and the opportunity to go to a place that you've never been before is always exciting.
The Winter Classic is aired to kick off the NHL on NBC every January.
NBC is one of the "Big Three" networks and has been broadcasting NHL games periodically since the 1960s.
The NHL aims to draw in the casual viewer for the Winter Classic and putting it on NBC is a great way to reach the highest amount of people possible.
The All-Star Game is a different story. It airs on Versus, which is not carried in as many homes as NBC. There was even a dispute between Versus and satellite provider Direct TV, which resulted in Versus being taken off Direct TV for several months.
Versus tends to alienate hockey fans, who scoff at the network's bigger focus on outdoor sports and car racing.
The fact that not everyone gets the station hurts the ratings for the NHL All-Star Game, and people who don't get Versus may not look elsewhere to watch the game.
The decision to put the Penguins and the Capitals in the Winter Classic has upset many NHL fans.
Those against the decision are upset that the Penguins are in a second Winter Classic before several teams have played in one. They are also sick of the league constantly talking about the Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin rivalry.
The NHL uses the Winter Classic to showcase the teams they feel will draw in the best ratings such as the Penguins, the Chicago Blackhawks, and the Detroit Red Wings. These teams are already featured prominently on the NHL on NBC.
However, the league strives for equal exposure during the All-Star Game. All but four NHL cities have hosted at least one All-Star event, and the NHL also puts at least one players from all 30 teams in the game.
The Winter Classic is a great way to salute part of hockey's history. Many NHL players grew up playing the game on frozen ponds, and the chance to participate in the Winter Classic allows them to recall some of their fondest memories.
There is also something majestic about playing hockey with a light snow falling in the background, which happened during the first game in 2008.
When teams participate in the Winter Classic, it is a tradition to introduce a vintage jersey for the game. Fans love the jerseys, which usually sell very well on NHL.com and in other outlets such as online stores authorized to sell NHL merchandise and team shops in arenas.
The All-Star Game also has a lot of great qualities.
Fans who attend get to see star players they may not get to take a look at during the regular season. The event also brings fans of all 30 teams together in a friendly way. There are many exhibits and interactive games, such as Montreal's idea to put each NHL team's jersey in a separate block of ice.
All-Star Game hosts often go all out and that can be a sight to behold.
The Winter Classic could be in danger of becoming an event NHL fans don't look forward to as much.
The NHL has already shown it has no problem showcasing the same team twice. With many teams in less than cold climates, it guarantees that some teams may not get to participate in the Winter Classic. Therefore, fans of teams who don't get to participate will probably get fed up with the event.
It also indicates that the league believes that only certain teams have exciting players that will generate TV ratings. But in reality, they won't know until they try.
For instance, is the NHL going to punish Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning just because he plays in Tampa Bay? Winning the Rocket Richard Trophy as a rookie is impressive, but has the NHL taken enough notice in that to showcase him further?
The All-Star Game has its own set of problems.
Many fans (myself included) feel the All-Star Game is about as exciting as watching paint dry. The game is almost too high-scoring, there is no hitting, and penalties are non-existent.
If the NHL wants to save the All-Star Game from falling ratings, they should make some changes to the game. Perhaps they can think of ways to make the game more exciting or make it count for something. They can also put it on a network that people actually get.
Now that you have read this slideshow and compared the Winter Classic and the NHL All-Star Game, imagine this scenario:
You have won an NHL sponsored contest where the prize is tickets to one of the league's marquee events in 2011. You have to claim your prize within 72 hours, or it is given to a second place winner.
Are you going to the 2011 Winter Classic to be held at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh? Or will you be temporarily migrating south for the winter and checking out the All-Star festivities at the RBC Center in Raleigh?
What sounds more appealing to you?
Personally, I'd go to the Winter Classic for obvious reasons.
But if the Penguins weren't in this year's game, I wouldn't be against checking out an All-Star Game. I have never seen stars such as Alexander Ovechkin and Jonathan Toews play in person, so this could be my only chance to do so.
Finally, do you think the Winter Classic trumps the All-Star Game, or vice versa?
Discuss in the comments section.