Puck Daddy - NHL

The ratings were down but the buzz was not for the 2010 Winter Classic. How do we know this? Because the debates and discussions over the next venue to host the game started immediately after Fenway Park was officially revealed and continued through last weekend's Winter Classic postmortem.

It's now become a national pastime for puckheads: Speculating on the next city, town, state or province to get the jewel of the NHL regular season. It's like how MTV viewers used to debate the next "Real World" location, before the show sunk into self-parody (and the rise of Snookie.) It's like how all of geek-dom fantasy casts the next superhero sequels even before the latest one leaves the box office. (Yes, we know: Johnny Depp would make a great Riddler. We get it.)

So now we've got baseball blogs writing about hockey games and NHL insiders offering their speculation and even a growing chorus of dissenters that don't want the game on Jan. 1 due to the looming NFL/NHL conflict of '12.

Here's what we know to be true about the Winter Classic, going forward:

1. The Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers will be involved sooner rather than later, and the Pittsburgh Penguins will be back in the game soon, too. 

2. The Jan. 1 Winter Classic will remain a largely U.S.-exclusive affair, if not in teams than in venues. The U.S. ratings drag by having a Canadian team on NBC is something the NHL wants to avoid. Canada will have its own outdoor game; it might be part of a doubleheader on Jan. 1 or on a different day. Call it the Heritage Classic, let the Winter Classic remain in the U.S. and move on.

3. Everybody wants a piece of this cash cow, from Ted Leonsis to Jerry Jones. Which means the definition of "Winter" could be stretched at some point.

With that, here are 30 potential U.S. venues for future Winter Classics, ranked in order to probability and potential. (We'll leave the Canadian sites out, for reasons stated above.) Some are obvious, some are gambles, some are national parks. All of them should, in theory, help the NHL's Classic remain that way.

1. Yankee Stadium (New York, NY)

It's the last of the iconic baseball stadiums, even if it's about a year old. It's an instant sell; heck, just plug in Phil Rizzuto's voice where Harry Carey's was for the Wrigley Field promotional spots. The New York Rangers are the obligatory choice; opponents could range from the rival New York Islanders to the rival New Jersey Devils to Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals to a riskier choice for U.S. TV ratings: The Montreal Canadiens, hockey's New York Yankees, playing in the House That Looks Like The House That Ruth Built. The Stadium's college bowl game is a monkey wrench that may delay the game for years; but hey, maybe by 2014 the Islanders won't stink. Or in Brooklyn. One of the two.

2. Beaver Stadium (Penn State University)

The NHL is going to get Sidney Crosby(notes) and the Pittsburgh Penguins back in the Winter Classic post-haste, and that's fine: There shouldn't be some namby-pamby, altruistic rule that every League franchise gets an invite to the game before the Penguins get a second look. This has been a puckhead dream since the first Classic: a football stadium with a capacity of 107,282, within driving distance of several fan bases. The perfect matchup would have been Penguins/Flyers, but that'll wait. And hey, it's always going to be open on Jan. 1.

3. Target Field (Minneapolis, MN)

Kevin Kaduk of Big League Stew explains:

Hosting the next edition in the Twin Cities' new ballpark seems like a natural fit and you might even consider it a favorite at this point. Not only would it allow the NHL to schedule a Canadian opponent for the Wild, it'd also remind Minnesotans of what it was like to watch baseball outside the previous Opening Day.

Well, the Canadian opponent thing probably isn't going to happen, as the Wild will need a glamour franchise or Ovechkin-level star to shoulder the hype for this one. But the Winter Classic in the State of Hockey needs to happen, especially if that Dallas Stars-as-North-Stars vs. Wild dream Classic ever materialized.

4. New Meadowlands Stadium, (East Rutherford, NJ)

This brand-spankin' new facility will have a capacity of 82,500 and would serve as a way to bring the Classic to the New York if Yankee Stadium is unworkable from a scheduling perspective. Rangers vs. Devils in an outdoor game? It would fill the stadium like a Bruce show, if only because Devils fans could tailgate again.

5. INVESCO Field at Mile High (Denver, CO)

For those who enjoy "winter" in their "Winter Classic." The Colorado Avalanche would host, and the logical opponent would be the Detroit Red Wings, because lord knows their fans turn out when they're in Denver. The capacity is 76,125 for football; will they all chant "in-com-plete!" on every blown pass? Another option: Ovechkin and the Capitals at Mile High. Heck, the venue worked pretty well for another famous 'O' currently residing in D.C. ...

6. Coors Field (Denver, CO)

Holding just over 50,000 for baseball, it would serve as an alternative to Mile High and a more picturesque venue. But is Bud Light still the official beer of the NHL? Because they probably won't like the signage.

7. Heinz Field (Pittsburgh, PA)

Capacity is over 65,000, and Penguins fans wouldn't need a single ticket to be sold to an opposing supporter before selling out the joint themselves. It works weather-wise, it would have Crosby and Malkin, and the NHL would sell roughly the gross national product of Belize in black-and-gold Winter Classic gear. 

8. Lambeau Field (Green Bay, WI)

The frozen tundra meets the Winter Classic. Yes, they've done hockey there already with the 2006 Lambeau Field Frozen Tundra Classic, and by all accounts it was a success. The first non-NHL region on our list, we're not entirely sure what the proper matchup would be, other than the Detroit Red Wings probably being part of it. An iconic venue, and one that the NHL could market with ease. It's a slam-dunk if they can fill the building.

9. Cowboys Stadium (Arlington, TX)

It's winter in Texas right now, and it feels like it. But it doesn't always, and the NHL would run the risk have holding a "Winter Classic" in what's autumn weather for much of the Northeast. But this venue has gained momentum lately, as Jerry Jones craves the Classic. Stars blog Defending Big D breaks it down:

For a game like this, you could potentially get 80,000 hockey fans into the Stadium. But where would these fans come from? Past games have featured rivalry matchups between two teams that are geographically close; Chicago vs. Detroit, Philly vs. Boston. Even Buffalo vs. Pittsburgh had some matchup appeal to it. Who would Dallas face that would promise to get opposing fans into the Stadium? San Jose? Anaheim? I think for a game this big, you'd see a good turnout of Dallas Stars fans but not enough to fill Cowboys Stadium. I could be wrong, and I hope I am, but the NHL is going to want to ensure a sellout for a game that big. And they're going to want a rowdy, loud crowd.

There's also a little game called the Cotton Bowl that provides a wrinkle. Perhaps you've heard of it.

10. FedEx Field (Landover, MD)

Look, no one really likes FedEx Field, especially in comparison to the nostalgic palace of RFK Stadium. But it seats 91,704 and the Washington, D.C. metro area would pack the house for the right Classic matchup. Which would be Penguins/Capitals, Rangers/Capitals or -- and this is a longer shot -- Red Wings/Capitals.

11. AT&T Park (San Francisco, CA)

Kaduk mentioned this venue in his BLS Winter Classic review, and it piqued our interest:

I oddly enjoyed watching last week's Emerald Bowl being played inside the Land of Lincecum and the thought of the Sharks playing the Ducks against the backdrop of McCovey Cove is too enticing and beautiful to pass up. No, there probably wouldn't be any snow and the rain could wreak havoc on the rink. But there could be fog, which would be memorable in itself.

Again, it's not a Winter Classic weather-wise, and it would be a struggle to hold the game in a city that typically doesn't see freezing temps in January. But the San Jose Sharks and either the Los Angeles Kings or Anaheim Ducks at that venue? Yes please. 

12. Ohio Stadium (Columbus, OH)

You'd need the Red Wings in this game against the Columbus Blue Jackets to make it work, and attempting to stage a game in the 102,329-seat Horseshoe is daunting. But the weather should help and it's an iconic stadium for college football, which would be a nice respite from the NFL and MLB palaces. 

13. Central Park (New York, NY)

No, it doesn't work from a capacity or accessibility standpoint. But 5-Hole.net has a passionate response to the dozens of criticisms this venue automatically inspires, and its "getting back to hockey's roots" argument is an interesting one.

14. Busch Stadium (St. Louis, Mo.)

Another venue that would sell itself: Start printing up those St. Louis Arch-covered-in-icicles logos now. The weather would cooperate and capacity is 46,861 for standing room; bet the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks could fill it. 

15. Notre Dame Stadium (South Bend, IN)

Talk about your iconic venues: The NHL could sell shamrock-based Winter Classic gear and then sell it again on March 17. Capacity is 80,795; no idea which teams would work in what would be a neutral site, but a commercial with the Notre Dame Fight Song is already playing in our heads.

16. The National Mall (Washington DC)

Like Central Park, the venue really doesn't work for a large-scale sporting event. But like Central Park, the scenery would be stunning and the "pond hockey" vibe might make up for it. Weather, however, would be a concern. As would any kickball games that are scheduled during the Classic's ice time.

17. Michigan Stadium (Ann Arbor, MI)

The Big House holds 106,201 fans; how many would come out for a chance to see the Red Wings in frigid temps? Play it as a double-header Cold War rematch between the Wolverines and Michigan State.

18. Caesar's Palace and/or another casino (Las Vegas, NV)

A crowd of about 14,000 fans watched the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers play a game in Sept. 1991. The ice didn't fall apart in 85-degree weather, and it was played at night. The NHL has already shown an affinity for Vegas. But please, should this ever happen: No Chaka Kahn.

19. PNC Park (Pittsburgh, PA)

Aesthetically pleasing with a manageable capacity (under 40,000), this Pittsburgh Pirates ballpark falls behind other alternatives for the Penguins' next Classic, but shouldn't be dismissed entirely.

20. Comerica Park (Detroit, MI)

From Kaduk:

Hockeytown gets a bad rap for a lot of things, but the city's downtown stadium campus is a great place to hold a big sporting event. Get the Red Wings outside and let them show the sissy Lions how playing in the elements is done. 

And there you go.

21. Citizens Bank Park (Philadelphia, PA)

The Flyers aren't likely to get a home Winter Classic for some time, but this ballpark would be a tremendous host. Especially because the seats are within battery-tossing range of the rink.

22. Nationals Stadium (Washington DC)

A nice looking ballpark ... OK, it apes the No. 21 entry on the list pretty well. The Capitals have other, better options for a local game, but the food is great. (Ben's Chili Bowl would make bank during a Winter Classic.)

23. Progressive Field (Cleveland, OH)

Via Kaduk on the Stew:

The NHL would have to bus the Blue Jackets to play the Winter Classic, but you'd be guaranteed cold weather and a very underrated ballpark with lots of upper deck seats to provide good views of the ice.   

The Jake would be a fine option, seating 43,515 and obviously working weather-wise. But Ohio State is a tad closer to the Jackets' fan base.

24. Safeco Field (Seattle, WA)

An odd choice, for sure, and the Vancouver Canucks would have to be part of the game for it to work. But if you're looking to bring hockey to new markets, this would be an interesting location for a Winter Classic, provided it works with the weather. Or it would be a sparsely attended boondoggle with a great Space Needle-inspired logo.

25. Camden Yards (Baltimore, MD)

This still-lovely classic baseball stadium has been tossed around as an option for the Washington Capitals. Which is great and all, until you think about the torches and pitchforks headed to Ted Leonsis's house if the Caps did business with Peter Angelos before anyone in DC.

26. Soldier Field (Chicago, IL)

Considered a runner-up for the Wrigley Classic, it would be the choice if the game ever came back to Chicago. Which it won't for quite a while.

27. Somewhere in Alaska

Again, you want a winter aesthetic in the Classic, you go where the winter is. There isn't a giant professional venue for a game, but you do have 4,000-seat Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage. Obviously the move here is to go Mystery, Alaska-style outdoor game. Two guess on who drops the first puck.

28. Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, MA)

The alternate venue for the 2010 Winter Classic, it seats over 68,000 in a modern stadium. Plus, by the time the Boston-area rolls around to another Classic, the NHL will be back on ESPN, so Bristol will love it.

29. Yellowstone Park (Wyoming)

If you're a back-to-basics, stripped down pond hockey fan, here's your venue. Build some eco-friendly temp seating in a picturesque place, invite whoever, and turn the game into a Bonerroo-type pilgrimage for puckheads.

30. Citi Field (New York, NY)

If Yankee Stadium. Giants Stadium, Central Park the stadium at Rutgers, all the minor league baseball stadiums, Liberty State Park, a barge on the Hudson and most of the front lawns in North Jersey are booked, there's always the new home of the New York Mets.

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