B/R NHL Roundtable: Ideal Location for the 2024 Winter Classic

BR NHL StaffFeatured Columnist IDecember 28, 2022

B/R NHL Roundtable: Ideal Location for the 2024 Winter Classic

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    BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 21:  The 2023 Discover NHL Winter Classic build out continues at Fenway Park on December 21, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
    Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

    We're just days away from one of the NHL's signature events of the year, as the league takes over Boston's historic Fenway Park for the 2023 Winter Classic.

    We've seen iconic American sporting arenas host the January showpiece, including Wrigley Field, the Cotton Bowl and Michigan Stadium.

    But where should the NHL turn to next?

    Will it be a new market such as Las Vegas or Seattle? Or could the league buck tradition and go with a Canadian city for the first time?

    It's time to call together the B/R NHL staff writers of the roundtable for their takes.

    Got your own opinion about the 2024 Winter Classic? Share your thoughts in the comments section of the app.

Edmonton, Alberta

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    EDMONTON, ALBERTA - NOVEMBER 21:  Below zero temperatures cause steam to billow up from buildings in downtown Edmonton off in the distance as the Montreal Canadiens practice on an outdoor rink on November 21, 2003 at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta. The Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens will play in the Heritage Classic hockey game on November 22, the first time a regular season NHL game will be played outdoors.  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    This, my icy friends, is a no-brainer. There isn't a more ideal location for the 2024 Winter Classic than Edmonton.

    Lest anyone forget, the Oilers essentially invented the modern concept of playing NHL games in an outdoor venue. They hosted the Montreal Canadiens for the inaugural Heritage Classic in 2003 at Commonwealth Stadium, long the home of the city's CFL franchise.

    That was the first NHL regular-season game played outdoors. It drew a crowd of nearly 60,000 fans in spite of bitter-cold northern Alberta temperatures, and it was among the most-watched games in history on CBC.

    The Oilers organization and fans have already proved they can successfully stage and support an outdoor game, so it's about time they benefit from the full "Winter Classic" branding that the league began in 2008.

    They have a player or two who might warrant the spotlight, too.

    The Oilers have the league's pre-Christmas leader in goals, assists and points in Connor McDavid, who's already won two MVPs and four scoring titles in seven full seasons. He seems driven to collect another pair come summertime thanks to a pace that'd yield career highs in all three categories—70 goals, 84 assists and 154 points.

    Only a star of his "could he be better than Gretzky?" magnitude could eclipse the production of occasional linemate Leon Draisaitl. The German winger has an MVP and a scoring title of his own, scored a career-high 55 goals last season and will end 2022-23 with a 49-82-131 stat line if he maintains current pace.

    There's no better way to sell a league than by putting two of its most elite players on a one-of-a-kind, once-a-year stage.

    Last but not least, hockey is still a Canadian game. But even though there have now been 13 Winter Classics and nearly half of the league's teams have been involved (14 of 32), there hasn't been a single one on the soil of the country that lives and breathes hockey.

    Dallas got one. St. Louis got one. Heck, Boston got two of them.

    Not Toronto? Not Montreal? They're plenty worthy for obvious reasons. But when you combine outdoor legacy, supernova star power and True North national pride, even they can't compete with Edmonton.

    So, NHL, it's simple. Book the Oilers and Flames for New Year's 2024, get your marketing people going on the "Battle of Alberta" artwork, and in lieu of a consultant's fee, simply send a few tickets my way and we'll call it even.

    - Lyle Fitzsimmons

Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund, Germany

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    Players warm up before the Champions League quarterfinal second leg soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City at the Signal Iduna Park stadium in Dortmund, Germany, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (Federico Gambarini/Pool via AP)
    Federico Gambarini/Pool via AP

    The early versions of the Winter Classic, starting with the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008, were breathtaking. The novelty of an outdoor game in front of massive crowds offered must-watch viewing. The new variables of wind, sun, and ice quality forced teams to adjust in a way they hadn't considered for a century.

    It's still an incredibly fun event—one I'd argue no other sport can really match in concept. But let's face it; outdoor games have lost their luster a bit. There are only so many times the Blackhawks and Flyers can face off in a football stadium while maintaining novelty. The NHL has made moves to make things fresh by giving some love to non-traditional markets like Nashville. That has been a success.

    If the NHL wants to truly infiltrate a non-traditional hockey market, then we need to get out of North America altogether. The ideal spot for the next Winter Classic? Dortmund, Germany.

    Why Germany? The soccer-dominant country is quickly developing something of a hockey culture. It's starting to churn out quality prospects for the draft and, in turn, capable NHLers. Germany hits the right balance of an existing foundation of hockey culture but also a market ripe for growth.

    A lot of casual soccer fans in the United States now know the names Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams following the World Cup. A similar appeal to nationalism can be made in Germany. Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl was born in Cologne, roughly an hour's drive from Dortmund. Moritz Seider won a DEL Championship in 2019 with Adler Mannheim. The two will likely be recognized as the best German hockey players of all time when their careers are done. They are perfect representatives for such a game between Edmonton and Detroit.

    Soccer club Borussia Dortmund are famous for making arguably the best stadium experience in all of sports. Undoubtedly, Westfalenstadion would offer an incredible atmosphere for an outdoor game between the Detroit Red Wings and Edmonton Oilers. Borussia Dortmund's Gio Reyna, a U.S. men's national team star, can drop the ceremonial opening face-off in order to conduct cross-promotion. The NHL has a history of collaborating with Green Day, and drummer Tré Cool was born in Frankfurt. Have the band perform during an intermission.

    Getting out of North America and pitting the Oilers and Red Wings against each other in Dortmund, Germany, would be an opportunity to reach a different audience while also breathing new life into the event for devoted NHL fans.

    - Adam Herman

Seattle, Washington

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    Lumen Field, Seattle, WA.
    Lumen Field, Seattle, WA.AP Photo/Ben VanHouten

    The NHL Winter Classic has never been held on the West Coast. Seattle would give the NHL a golden opportunity to rectify that issue in January 2024.

    By that point, the Seattle Kraken will be in the middle of their third NHL season. Their growing popularity within their market combined with their location and on-ice improvement would make them a fine host for the league's annual New Year's event.

    The Kraken have enjoyed capacity crowds at Climate Pledge Arena since their inaugural 2021-22 campaign. Thanks in part to budding franchise star Matty Beniers, they're currently jockeying for a playoff berth in the Western Conference. Should that success carry over into next season, the Kraken could become an even more popular local draw.

    Lumen Field in downtown Seattle, home of the NFL's Seahawks, would be a fine setting for the Winter Classic. The city's mild climate wouldn't be much of a challenge for the NHL's ice-making crew considering their previous success staging outdoor games in warmer locations such as California, Texas and Tennessee.

    Geography also works in Seattle's favor. The city's proximity to British Columbia and Alberta ensures it wouldn't have difficulty attracting fans from those hockey-mad Canadian provinces, especially if one of the opponents was the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames or Edmonton Oilers.

    If the NHL preferred an all-American matchup, the star-studded Colorado Avalanche could be the perfect Western Conference opponent. The league could also draw on one of the California-based clubs. Then again, a popular, well-established Eastern team like the Boston Bruins or New York Rangers could ensure larger national television ratings.

    That might not sit well with the Vegas Golden Knights, who joined the league four years before the Kraken. However, they already hosted the Avalanche in an outdoor game at Lake Tahoe in February 2021. Besides, the league could kill two birds with one stone by having the Kraken host the Golden Knights for this event.

    - Lyle Richardson

Las Vegas, Nevada

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    FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2018, file photo, the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino reflects the last sunlight of the day along the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada. Casino owner MGM Resorts International is bringing the coronavirus vaccine to its Las Vegas Strip employees, with the opening of an inoculation clinic at the Mandalay Bay resort convention center. Easing vaccine availability for perhaps thousands of hotel and hospitality workers comes with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas setting a July 1, 2021, date to return to in-person activities. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
    AP Photo/John Locher, File

    The Winter Classic has all but conquered the northern part of the United States. The game is in Boston for the second time this season. It's been in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York City, Detroit (Ann Arbor), Chicago, Foxborough, St. Louis, Buffalo, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, and Notre Dame in Indiana. Everyone wants to have the perfect winter image of snow falling, players being able to see their breath and goalies wearing toques, and that's nice and fitting.

    But what if we didn't aim for that image and just went for broke with the glitz and glam of Las Vegas? The Winter Classic is supposed to be a big-time event, so what's better than putting on a major NHL event on the Las Vegas Strip on New Year's Day when assuredly everyone in the city will not be hungover and begging to hit the Bellagio buffet.

    But seriously...a non-traditional city is begging to host an event game, and everyone wants to host the Winter Classic. The right idea would be to go to the Rose Bowl or even the Olympic Coliseum in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the Rose Bowl usually has, uh, the actual Rose Bowl game going on, and Southern California weather doesn't always lend itself for proper hockey conditions.

    This is why Vegas makes for the right call. If you want to host it at Allegiant Stadium, it's a domed stadium and would have perfect conditions to host the game no matter what. Unfortunately, the domed "outdoor" game has history in the NHL, and it didn't exactly bring out the warm fuzzies.

    But Vegas has hosted an outdoor game before back in 1991. If playing in a dome makes you lose that loving feeling for the Winter Classic, let's throw it back to when the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers played outdoors at Caesars Palace for a preseason tilt. Vegas weather in late September wasn't too kind for outdoor hockey, but January 1 would be pretty ideal for ice integrity, and playing hockey on the Strip would just look cool as anything.

    The Winter Classic is as much about spectacle as it is about the nostalgia of playing on the pond as a kid. We've had plenty of the pond, now let's amp up the spectacle. Vegas, baby, Vegas.

    - Joe Yerdon