The Winter Classic has been a wonderful idea for the NHL. It has gained speed into becoming one of the most anticipated events on the sports calender, and is the NHL's most watched regular season game. But in my opinion, there is still work to be done to the event to make it even more unique, and enticing for people to see. Here's my to do list:
Change the date of the game
I don't really like the idea of playing the game on Jan. 1. It's the same date of college football's most prominent bowl games. It would be more ideal to move the game to somewhere in December following Christmas. There, it would ride the front seat of sports for the day, with niche bowl games on ESPN/ESPN 2 riding behind.
In addition, New Year's Day 2012, will be on a Sunday, the day of many NFL games, and maybe the last week of the NFL regular season. The Classic is sure to be lost in the NFL lingo. Better to change the date sooner, rather than later.
Move the game to primetime
With the game being moved to late December, and the networks showing re-runs in their primetime line-up for the first few days following the 25th, the Winter Classic would be a great alternative for NBC. With more people having a chance to watch the game, rather than be outdoors enjoying the snow or whatever, and the more low-scale bowl games on cable an afterthought, expect higher ratings. Perhaps a simple start time of 7:00 for the networks (CBC, NBC, and RDS), and the puck drop at around 7:30 or 7:45.
Use the NBA Christmas Day model
The NBA Christmas day games are the biggest games of the regular season for the NBA. Why? Because the games that air on network (ABC) always have a premise to them. For example, the Celtics and Lakers played on Christmas Day on ABC last year (rematch of the 2008 NBA Finals, which revived the Lakers-Celtics rivalry), and this year one ABC's Christmas Day games will include the Magic and the Celtics (the two met in the play-offs last season, and the series went down to seven games before the Magic eliminated the 2008 champs).
For future games of the Winter Classic (just some suggestions), wouldn't it be cool to see two teams that met in the Stanley Cup Finals duel outdoors the next season? Maybe if the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins meet in the final once more in the next few years, they could face-off again in the Winter Classic. The Los Angeles Kings and the Colorado Avalanche are currently in play-off spots as of this writing. If they meet in the play-offs and series goes down to the wire, how about putting them outside (in Denver, of course)?
My point is, if a team isn't good and has been out of the play-off picture for a few years, it's not interesting and nobody is going to watch. Ratings may take a hit this year because, the Philadelphia Flyers are currently next to last overall in the NHL standings. There has been talk of putting the Minnesota Wild into next years Winter Classic. Let's just be sure they're in play-off contention by December 31, 2010.
Give Canada an outdoor game
Of course hockey is my country's game, and it deserves a game in the snow. It doesn't have to be the Winter Classic, but two Canadian teams outdoors would be a grand finale for CBC's annual Hockey Day In Canada. CBC would be more than happy to televise a game between the Leafs and the Canadiens, or even the Oilers and the Flames. The two teams don't have to have winning records by the date of the "Canadian Winter Classic" (what the game maybe called) we Canadians would be excited about the event.
Throwback Jerseys a must!
I've always loved throwback jerseys in every sport, and it's been unique to place them in the Winter Classic. I loved Buffalo donning their original blue, gold, and white uniforms, in 2008, and Pittsburgh donning their powder blue uniforms from the early 1970's too. It would be awesome to see the Washington Capitals sporting their classic uniforms used from their conception in 1974 to 1995. I said early on that the Kings could play in the Winter Classic as the visiting team. Would this mean that they would wear their pretty (or at least I call them) purple and gold uniforms used in a span of three different decades?
Once again, adding in throwback jerseys to the game has been a great idea, because it teaches fans who are new to hockey, about a teams history, and with examples of Pittsburgh and Chicago the fans embraced the throwbacks so much, that those teams eventually brought them back as an alternate jersey.