Ok, so I lured you in with a catchy title, and no. the NHL has not released information that they are going to expand the league beyond the 30 teams they currently have.
What they are expanding is the NHL Winter Classic, the time of the year when the NHL sends two of its franchise teams out in the elements to play as the game was originally designed – in the snow, cold and wind.
When the concept first came up, I did not like the idea of the NHL adding the elments into a regular season game, especially when two points is so critical come April for some teams. I got over that quicker than I got over the fact that the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup.
I still don’t like the fact that the fans have been pushed away from the action, theres nothing like being able to shit talk opposing players during warm ups or the bang on the glass during the action. I don’t think I will ever get over that fact.
In 2008 our very own Buffalo Sabres were the test run for the Winter Classic series; hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a picture perfect day for the game, the fans, and the league, as their poster boy won the game with a shootout goal.
In 2009 the Western Conference got the attention as the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Redwings through down at Wrigley Field. 2010 saw a midseason matchup of the conference semi-final matchup between Boston and Philadelphia with the Green Monster as the backdrop.
In 2011, fans in two cities will get the chance to showcase their hockey teams on a national outdoor stage. The NHL will use the opportunity on New Years Day to show off their two Eastern Conference stars, as the highly overrated and highly over marketed Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin matchup goes outdoors.
Just shy of two months later the NHL will head outdoors again – this time North of the Border and West, as Calgary will play host to the Montreal Canadiens.
Kudos to the NHL on finally getting something right, at least partly. Here are what I see wrong with the NHL Winter Classic Series:
1) Overkill central. When we got the first one in Buffalo, I said, if they do this every year it will get old, they should do it every three years, or every other year. So far, it still hasn’t gotten old watching games in different venues, especially since the trend of wearing some old threads continued with each city. Now you are adding two NHL regular season games outdoors. Are we going to get to a point where from January to February all teams will play one outdoors? Keep it simple and the fans will keep coming back. making it commonplace will keep you from gaining ground on the sporting world’s top three.
2). Pittsburgh again? Not only is Crosby and Ovechkin an overmarketted matchup that solely exists to help the NHL market the game; but Crosby has already has his day in the sun (literally). I would much rather see Montreal hosting Washington, or Washington hosting Montreal. There are plenty of other teams with young stars waiting for their chance to play outdoors.
3). Calgary is a great choice for a host city, but the league only got it half right by pairing them against the Montreal Canadiens. Part of the mystique so far of the Winter Classic has been teams with some sort of rivalry – Vancouver or Edmonton would be much better dance partners for Calgary than Montreal.
4). Eastern Conference favoritism. So far three Western Conference teams have or will have played in outdoor games. Seven Eastern Conference teams will have played.
What can the NHL do to make it better? Give props to modern NHL stars who have left their mark on the league. Instead of remaining current trophies to appease puck bunnies and modern fans, (yes that rumor is out there that they want to do that) make a Wayne Gretzky Memorial Trophy and a Mario Lemieux Memorial Trophy and give it to the Western/Eastern Conference team that wins their respective outdoor game (yes which implies I want them to keep two outdoor games a year – one for the West and one for the East.
Tags: Alexander Ovechkin Boston Bruins Buffalo Calgary Flames Canadiens Capitals Expansion Flyers Mario Lemieux Montreal NHL Outdoor Penguins Philadelphia Pittsburgh Sabres Sidney Crosby Washington Wayne Gretzky Winter Classic