Pittsburgh played the Buffalo Sabres in the first Winter Classic game in the U.S. in 2008. That was followed by the Detroit Red Wings playing the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009. This was followed by the Philadelphia Flyers playing the Boston Bruins at Fenway Park in 2010. Bettman just made the announcement regarding the 2011 Winter Classic. We all knew this was coming. Last year the Capitals and Penguins battled in the Eastern Conference semis, with Pittsburgh beating Washington in 7 games and eventually going on to win the Stanley Cup. This year, Washington loses in the Eastern Conference quarters to Montreal in 7 games, and then Pittsburgh loses to those same Canadiens in 7 games in the semis. And on January 1, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, it's Washington and Pittsburgh, Ovechkin vs. Crosby... again. The match-up casual fans want, and the match-up the die-hard fan is sick of having shoved down their throats. There's a good and bad to this (to no surprise at all, the bad outweighs the good). For more, make the jump.
Here's the good that comes from this match-up in next year's Winter Classic: NHL and NBC get the ratings that they crave as a result of potentially taking away viewers from college football bowl games on New Year's Day, casual fans get to see the match-up that they want to see (this is also a bad thing as I will point out shortly), the NHL gets to market their top 2 superstars some more (also a bad thing as I will point out shortly), and fans is Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. get to see their 2 teams play outdoors.
Here's the bad that comes from this match-up in next year's Winter Classic: the Steelers could make the playoffs and could wind up hosting a playoff game around the same time, meaning that getting a rink together in time is less likely as a result; die-hard fans (especially those outside of Pittsburgh and the D.C. area) get the Ovechkin-Crosby match-up shoved down their throats some more, Pittsburgh gets to play in their 2nd Winter Classic before any of the other teams that have yet to play in one get a chance to play in one, there is no guarantee that the casual fan will watch any other NHL games besides this one (thus meaning that ratings for every round of the playoffs including the Stanley Cup Finals take a hit, especially if the casual fan hops on the bandwagon of one of the 16 playoff teams and that team gets eliminated early on in the playoffs thus reducing ratings for games in the other rounds), and the NHL continues to market their product around the same 2 players and teams instead of attempting to attract more viewers by marketing other players and teams, in what I like to classify as the NHL whoring itself out for ratings.
There are 23 other teams in the NHL that have yet to play in a Winter Classic (without including Edmonton-Montreal in the Heritage Classic and without including Montreal-Calgary next year). Instead of growing the game by having one of those 23 teams play in a Winter Classic instead of Pittsburgh for the second time, we're stuck with the Penguins in another Winter Classic. Translation from the NHL: only star players matter. Crosby and Ovechkin are marketed non-stop. Yes, both of them are young and talented players, but they aren't the only young and talented players in the league, or the only star players in the league. Players that are just as good as Crosby and Ovechkin: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Bobby Ryan, Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Steve Stamkos... that's 16 of the many star players in the NHL in which this game could be used to get them more national exposure. Taking out players from the teams that have already played in a Winter Classic, that leaves 8 players from the 16 that I just named (not including Backstrom) whose teams have yet to play in a Winter Classic.
I understand that larger markets are what gets ratings, everyone gets that. However, the selection of the Penguins is the biggest problem here. The New York Rangers play in the largest market in the United States and are an Original Six team and have yet to play in a Winter Classic, most notably due to the fact that Yankee Stadium will not be able to host a Winter Classic until 2014 at the earliest due to hosting bowl games there until 2013. The Los Angeles Kings are in the second largest market in the United States with young stars such as Drew Doughty, Alexander Frolov, and Anze Kopitar. By having the Kings (or the Sharks or Ducks for that matter) play in the Winter Classic, their stars Doughty, Frolov and Kopitar get more exposure to a national audience along with the entire team. The Penguins don't need any more exposure to a national audience on a given day throughout the regular season. Teams such as the Minnesota Wild, Columbus Blue Jackets, Tampa Bay Lightning, St. Louis Blues, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche, San Jose Sharks, Florida Panthers, Atlanta Thrashers, New Jersey Devils and Phoenix Coyotes are the teams that need more national exposure throughout the course of the regular season-- teams in the middle of the pack or near the bottom in market size ( Devils share the top market with the Rangers, Thrashers in the 7th biggest market, Panthers in the 12th biggest market, Coyotes in the 15th biggest market, Wild in the 16th biggest market, Islanders in the 18th biggest market, Lightning in the 19th biggest market, Avalanche in the 20th biggest market, Blues in the 21st biggest market, Sharks in the 35th biggest market, Jackets in the 36th biggest market, Hurricanes in the 42nd biggest market, and Predators in the 44th largest market according to this article).
I haven't even mentioned the six Canadian teams yet. Why not include them in the Winter Classic as well instead of having a separate game later in the season where 2 Canadian teams play outdoors? Having 1 outdoor game a year is what makes the Winter Classic special. Having another outdoor game later in the season takes away the luster of the Winter Classic, especially if it becomes a permanent thing (you also get the "teams will get to play in more outdoor games than other teams, which isn't fair" argument here). A Canadian team with a storied history such as the Toronto Maple Leafs could play the Vancouver Canucks or Ottawa Senators in the Winter Classic (not including the Oilers, Canadiens and Flames in this because the Oilers and Canadiens have played outdoors already and the Flames will be playing outdoors next year), allowing Canadian teams to be involved in this event, instead of playing in an outdoor game after the Winter Classic, a game that the die-hard hockey fan would still want to watch. Sure, NHL and NBC might not get the ratings that they would get from a Capitals-Penguins match-up if they showcase 2 Canadian teams in a Winter Classic, but the die-hard fan would still tune in to watch 2 Canadian teams play in the Winter Classic. The added element of the game being played outdoors is what makes the Winter Classic appealing to casual fans as well as die-hard fans.
Why see this AGAIN next year, when we can see this? Seeing the Dallas Stars wear the old North Stars jerseys would be awesome, the match-up between the team that used to play in Minnesota and the team that currently plays in Minnesota is appealing to those that follow hockey closely because of the history behind it, and finding a venue would not be a problem. The only real problem is those hideous looking Wild jerseys that the guy drew up. Why see Crosby and the Pens in their second Winter Classic in 4 years when we can see this proposal? Why see Crosby and the Pens when we can see any of the other teams that have yet to play in a Winter Classic get their opportunity so that those teams and their star players can get more national exposure to help grow the game instead of having the same love affair or this love affair from the NHL's standpoint shoved down our throats constantly?
Message to Gary Bettman: there are more than 2 teams in the NHL (insert sarcastic gasp here), and more than 2 star players in the NHL (again insert sarcastic gasp here). There are star players on every team, some more well-known than others. Die-hard fans know the well-known stars, but getting rising stars such as Mikko Koivu, Matt Duchene, John Tavares, Steve Stamkos, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, Henrik & Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Drew Doughty, Rick Nash, Shea Weber, Evander Kane, Joe Pavelski, Eric Staal, Tyler Myers and countless others more exposure is what needs to be done to help grow the game, instead of marketing Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby practically 24/7 in a similar way to the NBA marketing Kobe-LeBron (especially as a possible NBA Finals match-up year in and year out), or MLB marketing Red Sox-Yankees (does EVERY game between the 2 have to be on ESPN or Fox?). Why he STILL can't get that through his head is beyond me. Capitals are a good choice for playing in the next Winter Classic. Pens are playing in another one again way too soon. Ideas for future Winter Classics are left floating around in the minds of die-hard fans, fans of teams that have storied histories or play in a climate suitable for outdoor hockey. Looks like we'll all still be waiting to see some of those match-ups, because Bettman opened his mouth again by saying something that he shouldn't have said. What are your thoughts, Wilderness?