The NHL Must Continue to Build On This Year's Winter Classic

Greg CaggianoSenior Writer IJanuary 2, 2009

Although yesterday's Winter Classic lacked the dramatics of the first edition, with there not being any snow or horrendous weather, it was still a highly exciting game and received the highest television rating for an NHL regular season game with a 2.9, surpassing last year's Winter Classic.

But the NHL can't stop from there. They built on last season's game with one at Wrigley Field, which got everyone in the sports world to watch, mainly because of the history of the famous stadium.

So what's on tap for next season?

Well, I among many other people felt that this season's Winter Classic was going to be played at the old Yankee Stadium, involving the New York Rangers. Originally, their opponent was going to be the New York Islanders.

However, the New Jersey Devils then expressed interest and some argued that it should be the Boston Bruins, so as to bring that famed New York-Boston rivalry to the stadium in a form of a hockey game.

After a few news articles and meetings between the Steinbrenners and Yankee Stadium officials and Gary Bettman and his advisors, the plans were dropped because it was felt that the plumbing and other facilities in the old building could not support a winter event. I was fine with that, as long as the Penguins weren't involved again, which they weren't.

So here are my ideas for how the NHL can continue to build on this season's success:

1. New York Rangers and Boston Bruins at Yankee Stadium

This event would be held at the new Yankee Stadium, of course, and what better way to drum up a media frenzy than to stage this in the world's biggest sports market? I was pleasantly surprised to see that even yesterday's game in Chicago received decent coverage from the New York media, so I can only imagine what a game in the actual city would do.

2. New York Rangers and Boston Bruins at Fenway Park

Talk about another huge success waiting to happen. If you think baseball fans became automatically interested in yesterday's game because of Wrigley Field, just wait until the stage is set at Fenway. Once again, the New York/Boston rivalry is brought in and it's guaranteed to be freezing cold, and maybe even have the magical effect of playing hockey in the snow.

There is only one problem: several renovation plans at Fenway are slated for the winter in the next two seasons, so it may be difficult to plan this.

3. Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs at the Toronto Skydome

This would finally be a way to get the Canadian teams into the mix, although it wouldn't be too good for American ratings (I will get to that later on). This is the best Canadian matchup there is, so how incredible would it be to have these two teams going at it?

4. Montreal Canadians and Boston Bruins at Fenway

Probably a more logical way to get Canada into the mix, since it would involve an American team. Nothing new to be said about this one, a great Northeast matchup, but the problems about Fenway mentioned earlier would still come into play.

Other potential teams that would be great for this type of event would include the Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers.

The one problem with the Wild is, the only baseball/football stadium in the vicinity is the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, and that is indoors, which would defeat the purpose of the Winter Classic.

Could we eventually see a Wild/Avalanche matchup from Coors Field? (I know it's not Coors anymore, but I'm too lazy to look up the new name.) That could very well be a possibility, but the thin air of the Rockies may have a negative effect on the game.

The market isn't the best as well, but after a few more years of these Winter Classics, hockey would be more popular, creating chances for lower-profile cities to host the game.

I mentioned earlier that having two Canadian teams in a Winter Classic is probable because it would be horrible for TV ratings in the U.S and would do nothing to boost popularity. Even though Canada needs no boost in ratings or exposure, I would have to think that they are growing impatient.

It's their sport and they have now been left out of two straight Winter Classics (I don't count the 2003 Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton).

So to me, the only way to get two Canadian teams on one ticket is to stage a doubleheader. And, man, let me tell you, is that a hockey fan's dream or what? A full day of exciting hockey, where this great sport will finally take the spotlight, if only for a short time.

I'm thinking the doubleheader goes something like this: At around one o'clock, we see the Rangers and Bruins playing at Yankee Stadium. Then, when that game ends, around four o'clock, we see the Canadiens and Maple Leafs battling it out at the Skydome.

I highly doubt NBC would want a full day of hockey coverage, so they can take the American game while the Canadian game will be broadcast on Versus and the NHL Network in the U.S. (while being on CBC in Canada).

None of these scenarios have been talked about, so it's just speculation on my part, but I think it would be a great way to continue to build on the success of two straight phenomenal Winter Classics.

As writers and fans, we love to rip the NHL apart, bring out all its flaws, but for one day a year we can talk about something it finally got right: a chance to boost popularity and get this sport back on top.

And they hit the nail right on the head.


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