The NHL lockout wiped out the 2013 Winter Classic in Detroit, but on Sunday, the league announced that the marquee game would return to the same place in 2014.
However, the Winter Classic wasn't the only relatively new NHL tradition wiped out by the lockout. So too were the league's Premiere games, which for the last five years have sent NHL clubs to Europe to open the season in places like Helsinki, Stockholm and Prague, and unlike the Winter Classic, these games aren't coming back.
The future of the Premiere Games — which opened five straight NHL seasons before being wiped off the map by the lockout — will become part of the broader conversation between the league and the union regarding a comprehensive international program.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email that the league intends to have “planning discussions with the NHLPA in the near future.”
Those discussions would include reviving the World Cup of Hockey as a midseason tournament to be played every four years between Olympics, thus guaranteeing a defined cycle of international best-on-best competition with which to showcase the sport.
We bet teams were just lining up to go to Europe, seeing as how the last four NHL Premiere Games series showcased the soon-to-be Stanley Cup champion for that season.
The NHL and NHLPA are still working with the IIHF and IOC to finalize a plan to send players to Sochi for next year's Winter Olympics. Who will pick up the costs of insuring players is a big hurdle still to be resolved. Incorporating a World Cup into the league's international calendar would benefit their ability to maximize profits and control such things as game times and content use, something, for the moment, that is in the hands of the IOC.
While 2014 is the focus for now, what about 2018 when the Winter Olympics are in Pyeongchang, South Korea, 13 hours ahead of East Coast time? It's not ideal for the NHL to promote those games being played at early morning times, as opposed to a World Cup, held (mostly) in North American arenas that can be broadcast on primetime.
Clearly, there's still a lot of work to be done, but the next step for leagues like the NHL, NFL, MLB and NBA is to further their international footprints. Their brands are already global, but there is still a great deal of growth to be had with the right plan.