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NHL postpones 2021 Winter Classic

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The Wild were set to host the Blues at Target Field for the NHL’s signature outdoor event

2016 Coors Light Stadium Series - Chicago Blackhawks v Minnesota Wild Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

In news that pretty much everyone saw coming, the National Hockey League announced Thursday that the 2021 Winter Classic, originally scheduled to be held January 1st at Target Field in Minneapolis and pitting the Minnesota Wild and the St. Louis Blues, has been postponed due to the ongoing concerns regarding COVID-19. No reschedule date has been announced at this time.

In the same press release, the NHL also annouced that the league’s 2021 All-Star Weekend, originally scheduled for January 29th and 30th at the Florida Panthers’ BB&T Center, has also been postponed.

The announcement is one that Wild fans, Blues fans, and hockey fans around the world have been dreading since earlier this year, when the NHL made drastic changes in order to help curb the spread of the COVID pandemic. The league suspended its season, delayed its playoffs, created virus-free, spectatorless “bubbles” in order to allow the season to conclude with the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning lifting Lord Stanley, and delayed the 2020-21 season opener, currently scheduled for January 1st, 2021 - the same day the Winter Classic was supposed to take place.

The NHL’s decision to postpone their signature events is a difficult one, but only makes sense from a fan and financial perspective. The Winter Classic and All-Star Weekend are for fans as much as they are for players, and having to put on these kinds of events with limitations on tickets, abilities for fan and player or vendor interaction - or even having no fans in attendance at all - seriously curtails the interest and income the events can generate for the teams involved and the NHL as a whole.

For Wild fans, today’s announcement is a one-two punch, as just the day before, the Wild and their broadcast partner Fox Sports North annouced the postponement of yet another outdoor-centered event geared towards hockey fans, Hockey Day Minnesota. The local event celebrates the sport from the youth and high school levels all the way up to the pros, and features boys and girls high-school hockey games, always played outdoors (weather permitting), and usually on frozen ponds or lakes. The Wild have already confirmed that Minnesota State Mankato University will host the 2022 event and that some sort of Hockey Day celebration will occur this year even without fans, but details have not yet been announced.

As for the Winter Classic, while the NHL is yet to announce any details regarding when Wild fans will be able to expect to see outdoor hockey in their backyard, Wild president Matt Majka is optimistic that the NHL’s decision to postpone won’t cause Minnesota to lose their place in line. “The NHL has given us every indication that the Winter Classic is coming to the State of Hockey and Target Field when it is safe to do so and our fans can fully embrace it,” Majka said via the Wild’s Twitter account. “We look forward to that day.”

There is precident to back that optimism up. The 2013 Winter Classic, featuring the Detroit Red Wings and and the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was postponed due to the lockout that claimed most of the 2012-13 season. In the same press release that announced that season’s Winter Classic cancellation, the league annouced that the Red Wings would host the Leafs the next season in 2014.

With the ongoing uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, it makes sense that the league wouldn’t want to commit to dates and times just yet, especially when the start of the 2020-21 season itself is still up in the air. But once the games return with fans in the seats, it’s reasonable to expect that the NHL will clarify their plans and give Wild and Blues fans a new date to circle on their calendars. And while there hasn’t been an official annoucement, we can speculate that date would be January 1st, 2022.