Earlier this week, the NHL announced a full slate of special event games for the 2019-2020 season. The 2020 NHL All-Star Game is headed to the Enterprise Center in St. Louis. Additionally, there will be three outdoor games next year. First will be the Heritage Classic on October 26. The biannual event featuring two Canadian teams, the Flames and Jets will head to Regina, Saskatchewan and play at Mosaic Stadium, home to the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. Then on New Years Day, the Dallas Stars will host the Winter Classic at famous Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas. The final outdoor game will occur February 15 with the Colorado Avalanche hosting a game at Falcon Stadium, the home field of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
The opponents for both the Stars and the Avalanche are yet to be determined, so this has led to a fair amount of speculation among hockey fans. Is it possible that the Wild could be playing in either of these games? The short answer: probably not. But it’s not impossible, so let’s look at why the Wild might and might not be named to either of these games.
Reasons it could be the Wild
The biggest reason the Wild could find themselves in either the Winter Classic or Stadium Series game next season is because they are a division rival of both teams. Assuming I counted correctly, 14 of the 26 outdoor games since the first Winter Classic in 2008 through the Stadium Series game later this season have been divisional match-ups. That is over half, so it seems very possible that at least one of these two games will feature two central division teams. On top of that, you can eliminate most of the other central division teams as less likely than the Wild. The NHL has announced that the Blackhawks, who played in this year’s Winter Classic in South Bend, Indiana, will not return to the game next season. It is also pretty unlikely that the Stars, the Avalanche, or the Jets would play in two outdoor games in one season. Only the New York Rangers have played in two outdoor games in one year, and that was when they hosted both of the other New York area teams in the same winter in Stadium Series games at Yankee Stadium. I also doubt that the NHL would have the Blues play in an outdoor game the same season that they host the All-Star Game. That means if either the Stars or the Avs are to face a central division team, the options are only the Wild or the Predators.
In addition to just being division rivals, there is more history between the Wild and both the Stars and Avs. The history between the Wild and the Stars is self-explanatory. If the NHL ever
gets its head out of its ... decides that Minnesota is a good destination for a Winter Classic, the Stars are an obvious option. The current Minnesota team against the former Minnesota team. The NHL will have no problem filling Target Field or TCF Bank Stadium for that matchup. This history also means it makes sense to have the Wild be the Stars opponent for a game in Dallas. As far as the Avalanche are concerned, there is plenty of history between them and the Wild as well. The teams have met three times in the playoffs, with two going seven games. They are teams that tend to get physical when they play each other, and it is a matchup that fans of both teams look forward to.
Reasons it won’t be the Wild
If the NHL wants a divisional opponent for either the Stars or the Avalanche, the Predators might make more sense. As a team that has been at or near the top of the league for three straight seasons now, choosing the Preds could help increase television ratings. Additionally, as far as a Winter Classic opponent is concerned, the relative proximity of Nashville to Dallas could help fill the 92,000 seat Cotton Bowl Stadium.
The “Stars vs Wild in a Winter Classic is so obvious” idea could actually go against having the Wild in the 2020 game. It might just be that the NHL agrees that it’s a logical choice for a game, and is waiting to have that matchup be in Minnesota in some future year. Only two outdoor game pairings have occurred twice: Red Wings/Maple Leafs (2014 Winter Classic, 2017 Centennial Classic) and Penguins/Flyers (2017 Stadium Series, 2019 Stadium Series), and Penguins/Flyers was planned to be a two-part series all along. All of this is to say that if the NHL is thinking about a Stars/Wild Winter Classic in Minnesota someday, it seems unlikely that the league would also have the two teams meet in the 2020 game in Dallas.
This is entirely my own speculation, but I would not be shocked to see a Canadian team chosen to play the Avalanche in their Stadium Series game (which would obviously rule out the Wild). I think this because of the other outdoor game to take place at a service academy: the 2018 Stadium Series Game in Annapolis featuring the Capitals and the Maple Leafs. That game included so many references and acknowledgements to the Air Forces of both the United States and Canada, and I would not be shocked to see that trend continue in the 2019 game at the Air Force Academy. Some have speculated that West Point alum Bill Foley’s Vegas Golden Knights would be a logical choice here, too. I do not disagree, but given that Gary Bettman has stated the NHL wants to play outdoor games at all of the service academies, I assume Foley would prefer to play in a game at the Military Academy in West Point.
So, are the Wild going to play in an outdoor game next year? While I wouldn’t be shocked if the answer is yes, I’m going to assume the answer is no. If the NHL wants either the Winter Classic or the Stadium Series games to be central division showdowns, the Predators seem more likely. The Preds have been good enough that they should help TV ratings, and, as far as the Winter Classic is concerned, Nashville is the closest NHL city to Dallas which should help ticket sales. The Preds are also one of only seven teams yet to play in an outdoor game, and are up there with the Tampa Bay Lightning as the best teams yet to appear in one. Regarding the Stadium Series game in Colorado, any number of teams could be candidates. The Wild are a possibility, but so are the Golden Knights and the Florida Panthers, given the military ties of their owners. Arizona is possible because of proximity, and as I said above, I would not be shocked to see a Canadian team here.
2020 Winter Classic: Dallas Stars vs
Stars Ownership Nashville Predators
2020 Stadium Series: Colorado Avalanche vs Edmonton Oilers
(full disclosure: I have no clue who the Avs will play, so I went with a USA v Canada matchup and also picked the only team with an Air Force Academy alum in their organization.)