For the 174th time, The Chicago Blackhawks are slated to play in not only another outdoor game but yet another Winter Classic.
To say this is becoming a bit tedious is an understatement. Are hockey fans really asking for the Blackhawks every single New Year? Are the only people watching the Winter Classic anymore living in Chicago? Or for that matter do they live in Boston, who is poised to play in their 3rd winter classic?
Outdoor games are feeling a little tired now, & putting the same 4-5 teams in the games every single year hasn’t helped.
This isn’t on Chicago, or Boston, or Pittsburgh; they’re never going to say no to more revenue & airtime. This is fully on the NHL brass, the men who have done their best to boondoggle the potential of game’s biggest stage. It takes a special lack of imagination to take such an incredible idea like the Winter Classic & turn it into a rerun every single season. So, let’s give the boys in charge a bit of help in that department. Put on your thinking caps, folks…we’re going dream up some Winter Classics!
WINNIPEG JETS v MINNESOTA WILD
Build. Up. Rivalries. I have more friends from the State of Hockey who were, & once again, are Jets fans than friends who live & die with the Wild. Wisconsin, Minnesota, & the Dakotas are hockey crazy. Fostering a rivalry in an area which is still getting used to having a surplus of NHL hockey seems like a no-brainer to me.
WHO HOSTS: Host this one in Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium, home of Gophers football. It’s a beautiful young stadium which manages to have real character. It's also hosted outdoor hockey for the Golden Gophers in the past.
HOW WILL IT LOOK: Well you know there will be snow. Dont forget cold, either. It might be so cold that it could be a problem, but the people of this region are hardy, so I'm not too worried. As for the teams, bring on the Fo-Backs! Just keep tan out of it. Have the Jets wear white & the Wild wear red. You’ll swear the Norris Division is alive & well. Take back your state, Minnesota!
COLORADO v DALLAS
Here’s another Central matchup that needs to happen yesterday. Well, maybe not yesterday. Let’s give the Avalanche 3 years to rebuild. I’m in full Verne Gagne mode, promoting these regional rivalries. There is a lot of history in these two teams, hell, I’m excited to see who shows up for the Alumni Game. The Avs are trending up & the Stars are always interesting, even in trainwreck form.
WHO HOSTS: Dallas hosting would be quite the spectacle, but I think this game would be amazing at Coors Field, home of the Rockies. Look at that outfield! Hosting in Denver would also be a nice reward for the Colorado fans who have stuck with this team for some lean years. Reward loyalty, Commish.
HOW WILL IT LOOK: Obviously Snow and Mountains. So much beautiful B-roll, you guys. You guys remember our piece about the best Central jerseys ever? No? Go read that right now!
...I'm serious, I'll wait.
Great! So, the best sweaters from Colorado & Dallas? Let’s relive Belfour v Roy.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS v SAN JOSE SHARKS
The West Coast really needs to host a Winter Classic. I understand that most major hockey markets lie within a 700-mile circle on the other side of the continent. I understand that NBC & the NHL really love their Noon start time. It’s time to step out of the bubble. Put the game on the west coast, & start it at 3:30 Eastern. Currently, Edmonton might be the hotter matchup, but I’m going to give Vancouver the benefit of the doubt that they’ll get their act together next 2-3 years. Plus, the geography of this matchup is actually important because…
WHO HOSTS: We hold this bad boy in Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, home of the Seahawks. Hear me out. The NHL likes to use stadiums in their team’s municipalities, but they have been willing to travel a bit. It’s time for the Winter Classic to find a truly neutral location and use it as a scouting run.
Seattle could be a great pick for an expansion team. A new NHL/NBA arena is in the works & the fan bases for the Emerald City’s NFL & MLS franchises are rabid. Even if a team doesn’t land in Seattle, it would be a great way to snap up new fans for both Vancouver and San Jose.
HOW WILL IT LOOK: Green. It does snow, but Seattle’s temperature in January ranges from 50 to 30 degrees. That could make for a sloppy rink. As for how the teams will look, it’s time to give a shout out to the 90’s kids. Year one throwbacks for the Sharks, preferably white. Vancouver gets to wear those slick black Trevor Lindon-era threads.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS v ST. LOUIS BLUES
Let’s be clear, the Nashville faithful deserve to host a Winter Classic. Considering it’s Gary Bettman’s only true Non-Traditional Market success story, I’m amazed he hasn’t made this happen. The biggest problem, for me at least, is finding a suitable opponent. Dallas makes sense, but that Colorado matchup was too juicy. Anaheim seems like a great matchup, but it’s too niche for the casual fan. Detroit? Too many outdoor games. Pittsburgh? Too many outdoor games. Chicago? PLEASE, GOD, DON’T LET BETTMAN READ THIS. St. Louis gets the nod, even though they just hosted.
WHO HOSTS: Nashville. Yes, the temperature can get as high as 60 degrees in January, but most of the time, it doesn’t stray higher than the low 50’s. If the NHL could host a game in a Las Vegas parking lot in the early 90’s, they can keep the rink nice for 3 hours in 2020. Unless you want to move the event to Knoxville, (which could be NUTS) the NHL would have to borrow Nissan Stadium, the home of the Titans.
HOW WILL IT LOOK: It’ll look a little weird. Sure they’ll fake snow the hell out of the field, but you’ll probably see an even mix of T-shirts and Parkas. These teams both share similar color schemes, so I think Nashville would want to keep their yellow and St. Louis could wear white.
FLORIDA PANTHERS v TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Yes, I’m serious. The technology used to freeze the ice is rapidly approaching the day where the outside temperature won’t really matter. You want to grow the sport? Hold its marquee event in the Sunshine State. Tell those college bowl games to take a hike, we’ve got hockey to play. Auston Matthews might be the best American player in the league, & he’s from Arizona. Get a generation of kids excited about hockey. The Panthers are young, if not world beaters right now. The Lightning are demolishing all comers. In 2-4 years, the timing for this event would be perfect.
WHO HOSTS: Tampa Bay. Hold it in Raymond James Stadium. Miami could also host, but I think Tampa Bay has earned the right to host over the talents down in South Beach. You bet your sweet Aspercreme that pirate ship's cannon is going off with every goal.
WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE: It’s going to be bonkers. Take a leaf out of the WWE’s book and lean into the spectacle. Replace the fake snow with sand. Pass out beach balls. It’ll be a brisk 70 degrees, so bring the sunscreen. I think both teams should wear the threads they wore in their first Stanley Cup finals. The Winter Classic is a celebration. We should celebrate the idiotic idea to bring hockey to the tropics. We should celebrate when the NHL used to shoot for the moon. More than 20 years on, it seems to have worked.
God, that was hard for me to say.