Don't turn Classic into Overkill
LAS VEGAS -- It appears the NHL is prepared to trade its wildly successful Winter Classic for what would be Winter Overkill.
As ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek first reported Thursday, the NHL is contemplating running two outdoor games on Jan. 1, one in Boston at Fenway Park followed by a second game in Calgary at McMahon Stadium, home of the CFL Stampeders and the site of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1988 Olympics.
Apparently, the Canadian franchises were annoyed at the prospect that the annual outdoor game -- so successful the past two years in Buffalo and Chicago, respectively -- would be unlikely to include Canadian participation at least in the near future.
Because NBC has broadcast the Winter Classic the past two years and will again in 2010, it is unlikely the network will be interested in having a Canadian team participate because it would do little to help ratings, which makes sense.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation proposed to the league that it run a second game in Canada involving two Canadian teams, and apparently that proposal is now being seriously considered.
Instead of protecting and nurturing one of the league's shining success stories since the end of the 2004-05 lockout, the NHL is now entertaining the notion of destroying the very uniqueness that has made the Winter Classic so compelling by trying to jam another outdoor event onto the schedule.
Two? Why not three or four outdoor games?
The idea Canadian franchises and/or the CBC are forcing the NHL to essentially give Canada its own outdoor game is ludicrous.
No Canadian outdoor game? Boo-hoo. Get over yourselves.
Logistically, there is a myriad of issues that explain why having a second outdoor game is a bad idea. The NHL invested significant funds to purchase its own portable ice-making unit to improve the ice quality at Wrigley Field this past New Year's Day. That was crucial; the ice at the Pittsburgh/Buffalo game two years ago was almost unplayable by the end of the contest. That unit will presumably be in Boston for what is expected to be a Jan. 1 tilt between the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals.
Does that mean a game in Calgary between the Flames and, let's say, Toronto or Vancouver, may feature inferior ice?
What about the idea of the buzz that has been so integral to the Winter Classic's success the past two years? Media would have to choose between covering one or the other game, splintering the attention as opposed to the steady buildup that has marked the previous two outdoor ventures since the end of the lockout.
One of the great parts of the outdoor games has been their ability to transcend the sport, to become a spectacle that has drawn the ever-desirable casual fan. How does having a second outdoor game do anything but lessen the impact of both games?
Yes, Canadian markets are hugely important to the NHL's stability and continued success. Yes, it would be nice for Canadian fans to freeze their fannies off on New Year's Day at one of these games. But having a second outdoor game just to pacify Canadian franchises and their fans or the CBC is just plain wrong.
The competition committee will discuss the issue next week at its summer meeting and the plan would need to be endorsed by seven of the 10 members of the committee to keep it alive.
Here's hoping the committee votes to keep the Winter Classic just that -- a classic.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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