NHL Winter Classic: Why the Detroit Red Wings Should Hold the Next Outdoor Game

PJ Sapienza@@pjsapiContributor IIIDecember 26, 2011

ANN ARBOR, MI - DECEMBER 11: A general view prior to the start of the Big Chill game between the Michigan State Spartans and Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on December 11, 2010 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Winter Classic is a week away, and this year we will see the New York Rangers play in Philadelphia against the Flyers.  Besides Philadelphia, Buffalo, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Boston have also held this annual event.

It is time for Detroit to host this event.  The Red Wings are the most successful U.S.-based team in the league’s history and over the past 20 years, the best franchise in the league.  It is time to reward them with this game.

Detroit played in one classic when they played in Chicago in 2009.  It had the highest TV ratings for a regular season game in more than 30 years. 

The Red Wings are the Yankees of hockey.  Regardless of if people love them or hate them, they will watch a big game that the Wings are in.  The classic has become such a prominent game on the NHL’s schedule it should utilize its most popular team.

It seems silly that the league has not tapped into the popularity of hockey in Michigan for this event.  At a time when the NHL is still trying to gain ground lost during the lockout, it seems like a no-brainer to showcase the Red Wings.  The rabid fandom in Hockeytown also leads to an obvious location to hold the event.

While some have thought the game should be held at Comerica Park in Detroit, where the Detroit Tigers play, there is a much better venue available.  In 2010 the Big House, the football home of the University of Michigan Wolverines, held an outdoor hockey game with their rival Michigan State Spartans.  

The attendance set hockey world records as it topped 100,000 people.  The NHL should hold a game here as well.  It would easily blow away the biggest NHL game thus far, which is just over 71,000 when the Winter Classic was in Buffalo in 2008.

The large stadium and first 100,000-plus NHL game would draw attention.  Having the Red Wings there guarantees that breaking the record should not be an issue.  The biggest question then would be who should they play?

Historically, the NHL has only had cold weather teams play in this game.  If that logic were to continue then Colorado, Minnesota, New Jersey and the Islanders would be next on the list with Columbus and St. Louis as outside possibilities.  There are two options that would be much better than just tossing in a cold weather team.

The first option would be to spread the appeal of the game nationwide and into the nontraditional markets where they keep putting teams.  Instead of keeping it a regional affair, bring in Dallas, San Jose or Tampa in to play this game.  By bringing it out of the upper East Coast and Midwest it would give the game more national appeal.  San Jose and Detroit have a growing rivalry, and Tampa has the Steve Yzerman connection, making them the top-two choices with this option.

The other option, and one that old-school hockey diehards will love, is to restore an old rivalry.  The Winter Classic has always been held between two United States-based teams.  In Canada, on two occasions they have held the Heritage Classic between two Canadian teams. 

For a game with Detroit, the league should bring in Toronto and let these two old-school Original Six teams play.  With the new balanced schedule the league is adopting for next season, these two teams will be able to play each other every season again.  Why not celebrate the return of this rivalry on a big stage?

A record number of fans, more media coverage going for a record, spreading the game league-wide and/or restoring a rivalry are all huge reasons to bring this game to the Red Wings.  It would be a tremendous moneymaker for the league and hopefully garner enough attention to spread to new fans.  There is also no sense in waiting until the offseason to announce where the next game will be held.  They should make the announcement during this year’s game.