The Deja Vú of NHL Outdoor Games (And Why I'm Fine With It)

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The NHL has announced some of the upcoming outdoor games, and as per usual, people are griping about the participants.

Let’s start with the 2019 NHL Winter Classic. The plan is to pit the Chicago Blackhawks against the Boston Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium. I’m actually fine with this matchup and I especially like the venue because I think the NHL needs to do more neutral site games (even though in this instance, the proximity to Chicago means it’ll essentially a home ice advantage for the Blackhawks).
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The internet has been awash with “Blackhawks again?!?!” comments. I get that argument; the league seems to really love throwing some faux-back sweaters on Kane and Toews and shoving them outside. The obvious reason why the league does this? The Blackhawks sell tickets, and more importantly, bring strong TV ratings.

While the NHL has stepped up the number of outdoor games that they put on in each season, they’re still a bit of a novelty and usually do well as far as ticket sales. Strong ratings aren’t always a sure thing. A prime example of this was the 2016 Winter classic which featured the Bruins and Canadians at Gillette Stadium. Despite an intriguing Original Six matchup, this 5-1 beat down by the Canadians drew the lowest ratings of any Winter Classic.

I, like most hockey fans, love and Original Six matchup which is why I don’t have a problem with this Hawks and B’s tilt. I do however wish that the league would’ve pulled the trigger on this one a few years ago because neither team is really what they were three to five years ago. This matchup would have been unreal between 2010 and 2015.

The other game the league announced recently is a Stadium Series Matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles. This is of course a rematch of this year’s Stadium Series game that took place at Heinz Field which the Penguins won 4-2 (as a Flyers fan, it still stings to type that).

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I don’t understand how people could be upset about this one. Maybe it’s that my team is involved so I’m biased, but even if you aren’t a fan of either of these teams, everyone knows that Flyers-Penguins is one of the most bitter rivalries in the entire league. How could anyone be opposed that kind of matchup on a big stage? Plus it's two American teams who have strong fanbases which usually helps the TV ratings. Again, this game will likely sellout as far as tickets are concerned.

Since these teams have made numerous outdoor appearances, I understand why people are upset that eight other teams have yet to appear in even one outdoor game. Let’s go through those teams:

Nashville Predators: After a strong run to Stanley Cup final last season it would’ve probably been smart for the NHL to throw Nashville in an outdoor game and strike while the iron is hot. They would’ve been a great opponent for the Blackhawks in the Winter Classic at Notre Dame, and I’m sure they can fill a stadium in Music City. I think it’s just a matter of time until the Preds make an outdoor appearance.

Dallas Stars: The Stars would’ve been the ideal opponent for the Stadium Series game that took place in Minnesota a few years back considering they use to call the state home when they were the North Stars. The Wild ended up playing the Chicago Blackhawks (of course). The Stars are on the cusp of being an elite team in the Western Conference. Climate is a major factor in them hosting an outdoor game, but games in warmer cities have been done before.

Tampa Bay: After an unbelievable start to this season, the Lightning deserve to be a part of the outdoor game conversation. Could they fill a stadium? More than likely. They have a pretty long sellout streak. They also could have an interesting cross state matchup with the Florida Panthers.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers only realistic way of playing outdoors would be playing the Lightning either in Tampa or at a neutral site. The Panthers ticket selling woes are well documented and if they have trouble filling an arena you can forget filling a stadium.

Carolina Hurricanes: Carolina is a sort of a middle of the road team without any strong rivalries. The best possibility for them would be an event where they pay tribute to their identity, the Hartford Whalers.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets 100% deserve to be a part of an outdoor game. They’ve been phenomenal the last couple seasons and that’s while playing in arguably the toughest division in the NHL, the Metropolitan. There also the only major league professional team in Columbus and the weather gets nice and cold. An ideal venue would be the Ohio State Buckeye’s home, Ohio Stadium.

Arizona Coyotes: I’ll be blunt here I really don’t see any chance of the Coyotes playing outdoors… at least not in Phoenix. The team’s ownership is always an issue and Phoenix is of course blisteringly hot. But, I could see Arizona on the road, especially against…

Vegas Golden Knights: Vegas has gotten off to an incredible start by expansion team standards. Would it be fair for them to jump ahead of other teams that have been around longer and never played outside? Maybe not, but if they develop a rivalry with their fellow desert dwellers, the Arizona Coyotes, I could see it happening. Outdoor hockey in Las Vegas? Yeah, It has happened before!

While I understand that people want to see new matchups, I’m totally fine with seeing the same teams as long as the matchups are good, Check out the slate for this season: Senators and Canadians, Capitals and Maple Leafs, and Rangers and Sabres. That’s an all Canadian game, a playoff rematch, and an intrastate matchup. That’s a nice variety. If this trend continues I’m completely fine with the NHL’s outdoor selections.

Just slow down on the Blackhawks a little bit.


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