The plans for the NHL's second Winter Classic became final yesterday as the league announced the second installment of the game will be held Jan. 1 at Wrigley Field in Chicago between the Blackhawks and Red Wings.
Assuming if the league gets a little lucky in regards to weather as it did last year, it's hard to imagine another one of these not being a tremendous success.
The league made a wise decision to include the Red Wings and Blackhawks in this game. Ticket sales aside, the Red Wings are one of the NHL's model franchises. The Blackhawks are a young, improving team and an event like this can only help raise their profile in a busy sports market like Chicago.
But we still can't help but wonder what some of the NHL's motivations are with this thing on many fronts.
1.) Why is this being held on Jan. 1 again? Why is the NHL determined to go head-to-head with college football? The ratings for last year's game were strong by NHL standards, but imagine how much better they could've been had it been scheduled in early February with relatively little else on the sports calendar. College and pro football are done by that time. The postseason pushes in college basketball and the NBA don't start quite yet. NASCAR and spring training for Major League Baseball start in the middle of February. Why not try to maximize the spotlight for the sport by staging one of its biggest events when there's very little competition for that light?
2.) Is Wrigley Field really the best venue for this? How exactly will the rink be lined up on the field? Baseball fields aren't exactly configured in the shape of a hockey rink. Football fields like Soldier Field are.
We understand the romanticism behind the idea of hosting this contest at Wrigley Field. We've been in Wrigley Field. It's a fantastic, wonderful place to watch a baseball game. There's a certain smell and a certain feel to it you can't replicate. We aren't so sure it's a great place to catch a hockey game with how the seating is.
Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York has all the romance of a toilet brush. But watching the Penguins and Sabres in the flurries on Jan. 1 was one of the greatest moments we've ever experienced as hockey fans. And we have a feeling the roughly 70,000 other folks there that day felt the same way simply because every seat at the stadium had at least a halfway decent view of the rink.
Granted there is the possibility of the Bears hosting a playoff game at Soldier Field on Jan. 3 or 4. It would be a logistical nightmare trying to construct a rink, play a game, and de-construct it in a timely fashion. But was there any less of a chance the Bills could've had a playoff game Jan. 5 or 6 of this past season? Yeah, yeah, we know it's the Bills, but still, the NFL is beyond unpredictable.
3.) There won't be any tailgating near the stadium. To say the least, "parking" at Wrigley Field can be an issue. There are roughly four spots to park cars at that field. (We think.) If you've never been there, Wrigley Field is right in the middle of a neighborhood. Imagine PNC Park being in the South Side of Pittsburgh.
One of the more memorable aspects of the Winter Classic in Orchard Park was the tailgating. There were acres of cars parked around the stadium. People were eating, drinking, chanting, getting arrested while wearing Gilbert Perreault jerseys, huddling around open fires, playing street hockey and just in general, celebrating the fact that they were outside in the snow being hockey fans.
We can't imagine taking "The L" to Wrigley Field will be quite as memorable.
The Winter Classic is a marvelous idea and the first incarnation of it helped the NHL in a myriad of ways this past season. But as is the case with most things the NHL does, it could be done a lot better.
EMPTY NETTER ASSISTS
-There going to be a lot of competition for the last two spots on the Penguins' roster.
-Random YouTube Find of the Day: A brawl between the Penguins and Blackhawks during the 1992-93 season:
-Sidney Crosby won ESPN's hockey player of the year award at the ESPY's. We'd complain about Alex Ovechkin not winning it but complaining about ESPN's coverage of hockey would be like complaining about the Food Network's coverage of hockey.
-The Rangers re-signed forward Nigel Dawes.
-Former Flyers defenseman Eric Desjardins joined the team as an assistant coach.
-Should former Blues and Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville be the next Islanders coach?
-Islanders director of player development and former Penguins forward Bryan Trottier is not at odds with his team's management.
-The Spectrum in Philadelphia will be demolished. Hopefully the Wachovia Center, the Flyers' current home, can be "accidentally" included in the demolition.
-With the Spectrum going away, where will the Phantoms, the Flyers' AHL affiliate, play?
-The Canadiens re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Ryan O'Byrne to a three-year deal. The team also signed forward Shawn Belle.
-The Blues re-signed defenseman Jeff Woywitka to a one-year deal. They also signed former Stars forward Brad Winchester.
-The Oilers actually inquired about bringing back former Penguins enforcer Georges Laraque.
-The Flames re-signed forward Jamie Lundmark to a one-year deal.
-The Wild put forward Stephane Veilleaux on waivers.
-The Kings will officially hire Terry Murray as head coach tomorrow.
-It appears the KHL in Russia has put a moratorium on its teams from hiring NHL players currently under contract.