The more I think about the next Winter Classic, the less I want the next installment to close out Yankee Stadium in The Bronx. This has little to do with the baseball purist whining that appeared when the idea was first floated. I just find myself more intrigued by the notion of a Detroit Red Wings team, which could be the reigning Stanley Cup champion, facing off against a resurgent Chicago Blackhawks franchise inside a renovated Soldier Field or inside the friendly confines of Wrigley. On Frozen Blog shares the sentiment, and Gary Bettman's on the record as supporting it.
If I were Bettman, I'd be a lot shorter. But I'd also have a chance to map out the next few Winter Classic games, and they'd go like this: Red Wings/Blackhawks in Chicago; the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins at the new Yankee Stadium; the Philadelphia Flyers against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Penn State's Beaver Stadium; and then the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins at Fenway Park. (At some point, a Canadian team needs to be featured in the mix, U.S. ratings hit be damned.)
What's wonderful about the Winter Classic is that it's an NHL invention that every city seems to crave; Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has gone as far as to ask for an annual outdoor game between the Penguins and Flyers. The League knows it has something special on its hands, and it's being careful about overexposure or placing the game in the wrong location. That's why this dance with Yankee Stadium officials and New York City has continued for so long -- the NHL believes closing out the old ballpark would be a major coup and a media extravaganza.
But are there just too many obstacles in the way of it happening?
Larry Brooks of the NY Post spoke with Yankees' COO Lonn Trost, who said there are two major stumbling points right now for a Winter Classic in The House That Ruth Built:
"The first issue concerns Lot 14, the lot directly across the street from the Stadium that's now the players' lot," Trost said. "We have an agreement to turn that lot over to the city on Dec. 1 so they can begin construction on that site for what will be a two-level underground parking facility that's going to be covered by a ballfield for use by neighborhood."
The city's second concern is one that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman referred to in a press conference last week as, "winterization."
"There's some concern that there would be water damage to the Stadium if the pipes burst, with use in the winter," Trost said. "But we don't believe that's a legitimate danger."
Brooks writes that if the game does happen, it will likely be between the Rangers and the Bruins because NBC has no interest in seeing the market doubled-up by including the New York Islanders or the New Jersey Devils. But former Islanders media relations maven Chris Botta believes the Isles have a legitimate claim on participating in the game. Because it was their idea first:
The New York Islanders, and only the New York Islanders, started the process of looking into the possibility of having a hockey game at Yankee Stadium. This process started more than a year before the first word was ever written about it in the press. It began before there were plans for the Penguins and Sabres to play an outdoor game in Buffalo.
The initial reaction of everyone else in the National Hockey League? A roaring, bordering on snickering, chorus of Aerosmith's "Dream On." Their issue wasn't about the Islanders being part of the game. It was naysayers - the ones who didn't put in the effort to dream big and then try to make it happen - tsk-tsking, "The Yankees will never allow a hockey game at Yankee Stadium."
Botta writes that "anyone with an ounce of fairness and decency in their soul knows the New York Islanders should be part of any NHL event at Yankee Stadium." But fairness doesn't have a home when it comes to the Winter Classic. You think we'll ever see the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Carolina Hurricanes in one of these games? Hell, I'm pretty sure the League might even find a way to keep the Canadian franchises out by allowing them their own Winter Classic Deux as an accompaniment to the U.S. game, to keep the ratings in the States strong.
At this point, I'd be rather stunned if there wasn't a Winter Classic next January at Yankee Stadium. The League's pushed too hard for too long on this one for it not to happen. I just feel there are more interesting alternatives in Chicago or at Penn State.