The Winter Classic as we knew it no longer exists.
Regardless of what happens in Washington D.C. on New Year’s Day for the most recent installment of the NHL’s marquee event, this game should be changed.
Sure, there are reported negotiations for Boston next year, but in all honesty, the NHL has run out of ideas to sell the actual event of the Winter Classic.
This isn’t another diss on this year’s game, which we have constantly said features two teams with no rivalry at a nondescript baseball stadium. Our views on that are well known.
This more has to do with the Winter Classic franchise itself.
Let’s say, next year the Bruins play the Canadiens? If the NHL wants to make a variation from the 2010 Classic between Boston and Philly at Fenway Park, what’s it going to do? Put the game at Gillette Stadium, an NFL facility based in Foxboro, Mass., with little-to-no nostalgia or charm.
While people lauded and praised last year’s Winter Classic at the University of Michigan as the greatest one yet, (and it has the TV ratings to sort of prove it) the star of that contest was the "Big House" (Michigan Stadium), not the NHL or the Maple Leafs and Red Wings.
Both teams had zilch in terms of personality or transcendent star power. And HBO’s 24/7 series last year proved its most boring – and final – of its run.
Also, only ONE current Western Conference team has ever played in the game. They should just rename it the “East Coast Classic” if anything.
But just because the Winter Classic franchise has problems, doesn’t mean there isn’t a solution for the NHL. In fact the league has an opportunity.
The NHL should take the best of the Winter Classic idea along with the Stadium Series and … boom. You have the NHL’s Stadium Classics group of three games per-year with no limits or bounds.
This idea was born out of the NHL’s Dodger Stadium game last year between the Kings and Ducks. What moves the needle more? A snowy game in Michigan, or combining hockey with KISS, Vin Scully and palm trees? Purists, we laugh at you.
It was winter in Los Angeles. And the game turned into a classic … so it could have fit the marketing slogan.
Seriously, just stop putting all your eggs in one event as the "marquee" game and promote three equally.
Put them in different hockey playing countries. Maybe even get creative with venues. If Dan Craig can make ice anywhere, let Mozart make his finest masterpiece yet. Granted, there are some spots that won’t work like South Florida. But we have a few thoughts on some neat areas.
It’s time to go rogue, go unpredictable, go crazy! We’ve put the games within time zone reason. For example, we can’t have a game in Japan just because it wouldn’t be great for live television viewing purposes in North America.
We have ranked 15 matchups and locations we would love to see.
Behold, the Puck Daddy Stadium Classic Series:
15. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Islanders at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania
How in the world has a game here never occurred? These two teams had a pretty good go at it in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Plus, it would definitely net over 100,000 fans.
14. Buffalo Sabres vs. Toronto Maple Leafs in Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario (with the roof open)
You get your baseball stadium, you get your outdoor feel. You get two teams who haven’t played one another in an outdoor game, and a real rivalry. This would be pretty sweet.
Target Field has been a reported spot for a Wild outdoor game, but why not try TCF Bank Stadium … just because we’ve had a lot of baseball stadiums recently, and the whole "bowl" feel works better with hockey.
12. Nashville Predators vs. Carolina Hurricanes at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
This game will be a tribute to the South. Roll Tide! The average high in Tuscaloosa is 56 degrees in January. The average low is 35 degrees. If Craig could make ice in an unseasonably warm Los Angeles last year, he could do it in T-Town. The only fear would be severe weather, which exists in the Southeast at all times of year … and Nick Saban, for no reason other than he’s Nick Saban.
11. Anaheim Ducks vs. Arizona Coyotes at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona
If you can successfully pull off an outdoor game in Los Angeles, why not do it in the Phoenix area? The night time is cool and dry – perfect for a clean sheet of ice. Also, this could help the seemingly ever-struggling market with its hockey PR.
10. New Jersey Devils vs. Winnipeg Jets in Laugardalsvöllur Stadium in Reykjavik, Iceland
Sure, this stadium only seats 9,800 people. But no doubt the NHL can bring in some makeshift stands. Iceland isn’t super far from the New York metro area. And why Winnipeg? Because the Jets are Jordin Tootoo’s natural rival because he was born in Manitoba? Maybe this game can turn Iceland into the hockey hotbed we were told of in “D2: The Mighty Ducks.” Gunnar Stahl, eat your heart out. Also Bjork can sing the Icelandic national anthem.
9. Colorado Avalanche vs. Detroit Red Wings at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado
This is one of the most scenic venues in the United States. The Avs and Wings could renew their 90s rivalry. Plus, you could make hundreds of Mork and Mindy references leading up to this game.
8. Dallas Stars vs. Chicago Blackhawks at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas
You have to include biggest and boldest stadium in the United States if you’re coming up with game ideas. And Chicago fans travel super well. Plus they’re divisional rivals. So it all makes sense.
7. Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Philadelphia Flyers at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio
A Metropolitan Division rivalry? Sure! The "Horseshoe" is a neat facility. Its lack of use in the NHL realm probably has more to do with Columbus’ historic hockey woes than anything.
6. San Jose Sharks vs. St. Louis Blues at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah
A perfect neutral site, midway point for both of these teams in a beautiful setting. Take a ski vacation to Park City and watch some hockey. Perfect! Plus go see where Chevy Chase filmed “Fletch.”
5. Washington Capitals vs. Ottawa Senators at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis Maryland
Navy Marine Corps Stadium is gorgeous – one of the better-run facilities in college football. Plus, what would be better than a Russian-born hockey star lacing them up to go against stars from the Canadian capital … at Navy! It’ll be like the Cold War all over again.
4. Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers on a frozen pond in Lake Louise, Alberta
What could be more outdoorsy than playing hockey in Lake Louise? Only issue would be importing stands to the area … and players skating safely on a real, live lake/pond. Yeah, this may be hazardous, but with advances in science, maybe …
3. Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers in the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana
An NHL game in New Orleans? That. Sounds. Awesome. The Panthers and Lightning shouldn’t be discriminated against just because they play in Florida. New Orleans is a perfect neutral site. Pump up the air conditioning in the Superdome, and you have a great place for both squads to play and for revelers to party.
2. Vancouver Canucks vs. Los Angeles Kings at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California
Dodger Stadium was cool, but what about the Rose Bowl? New Years Day availability would be impossible, but do it later in January. A hockey game in the "Granddaddy of them all" would be sweet. They’d have to bring Keith Jackson out of retirement for this.
1. New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens at Wembley Stadium in London, England
Sure, London is rainy and such, but why not at least test the market? The NFL went to London, and it was a massive success. Nothing ventured nothing gained? Plus, London isn’t a super long flight from New York or Montreal. Two big-money marquee franchises in London? Plus, who wouldn't want to see hockey fans and soccer hooligans mix for a few days?
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