All is expected to go smoothly for the NHL today at Wrigley Field for the second annual Winter Classic between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. But now comes the time to speculate on who will be playing outdoors on New Year's Day 2010.
The five best bets are (in no particular order) :
1. Rangers v. Islanders/Bruins at Yankee Stadium
This one has been on the table since last season and Yankee officials have actually shown enthusiastic approval of the idea. The problem is that New Yorkers would prefer an Islander-Ranger winter classic, but it seems the powers that be in the NHL (Mr. Bettman) would prefer the Bruins take the place of the Isles for the ratings.
Speaking of the Bruins...
2. Bruins v. Canadiens at Fenway Park
Also on the table since last season these two Northeast and Original Six rivals would certainly have the prestige and ratings appeal to have the game. It also would take place in the second-best hockey area in the country (sorry, Minnesota is THE State of Hockey).
The only problem is the logistics of trying to setup a game at Fenway, but if they can do it at Wrigley, it definitely is possible.
3. Penguins v. Flyers at Beaver Stadium
A rivalry on the rise given the success of the Penguins as of late and Beaver Stadium in State College would certainly provide a unique venue with a chance to see upwards of 100,000 people watch a game in Happy Valley.
The problem is that this game would be at a somewhat neutral site. I'm sure Sidney would convince the NHL that it would be a good proposition.
4. Wild v. (Division foe) at TCF Bank Stadium
As previously mentioned, Minnesota is the state of hockey so an outdoor game would be ideal for a state known for having kids play shinny on the frozen lakes. The NHL wouldn't have an ideal pick for Minnesota to play, but chances are it would be the Avalanche.
5. Flames v. Oilers at Commonwealth Stadium
Go back to the place where it all started in 2003 with the Oilers and Canadiens in the Heritage Classic, but with the province of Alberta at stake. It worked well there and led to what we have today.
Although allowing this is the third worst thing to happen to the NHL in terms of on-ice matchups and ratings behind hockeytown vs. non hockeytown final (e.g. Senators v. Ducks) and an all-Canadian final (e.g. Canadiens v. Flames).
Some other options I've seen mentioned were Washington, so the Alexs get the spotlight, but it's a little too south in terms of weather, Pittsburgh and Moscow.