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Spread it Around, Gary!

By Jeff Ponder

Once again, the NHL has let down 93% of its fans.

It was announced Friday that the NHL has selected its match-up of two of the thirty teams for the 2011Winter Classic. Surprise surprise, it will feature the Washington Capitals suiting up against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Sometimes it is hard to remember that there are only two teams of importance in the NHL.

Not only is this a match-up that NHL fans have already seen on Versus and NBC numerous times before, it is also the second time that the Pittsburgh Penguins will be featured in a Winter Classic. The 2008 Amp Energy Winter Classic showcased Sidney Crosby and the Penguins against Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres. Crosby scored the game-winning goal in the shootout on a snowy afternoon at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo for a thrilling end to a spectacular Inaugural Winter Classic. While that is a moment that the NHL should covet, trying to replay what has already been shows the bias and ineptitude of the league.

Clearly Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby are two premiere players in the league, but it is lunacy to think that the common NHL fan wants to watch the same two teams play every nationally-televised game. As clear as it is that these players are the most illustrious, it is also clear that the average team busting through the ranks captivates both nations that have NHL teams. The Philadelphia Flyers have burst onto the scene this playoff season, pitting them in the Stanley Cup Finals after being counted out early on as the undesirable Eastern Conference seventh seed. Even though Pittsburgh and Washington were knocked out fairly early (both by the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens nonetheless), Versus recently released a report that the NHL ratings are the highest they have been since 2002. What does that say? Sid the Kid and the Great Eight are not the only ones attracting fans.

Am I saying that the NHL needs to give St. Louis a chance at a Winter Classic spot? No... No way in hell. Watching every game that I can has proven one thing to me; the Blues are not a dynamic offensive team. They are capable of squeezing out victories and pounding in some odd goals, but they are still in that developmental phase of finding their identity and getting their top-six forwards to be consistent. That just does not produce a strong viewer rating for the NHL, not to mention that a home game in St. Louis could be disastrous; New Year's Eve it could be 28 degrees but 63 the day of the event.

So who could get consideration for the Winter Classic outside of Pittsburgh and Washington?

A good climate for an outdoor game would be somewhere with a snowy exterior that has a beautiful background for scenery shots. Colorado seems to fit those qualifications, not to mention they put out a very impressive roster last season and have one of the greatest stories in goaltender Craig Anderson. Plus you could make California hockey fans happy by putting the Avalanche against a team from that warmer state. San Jose has a high-powered offense that can play hard for 60 minutes. Joe Thornton is also a former Boston Bruin, while Dany Heatley probably still has a huge following in Atlanta and Ottawa. So you have to figure that the majority of those cities would be in for watching them in a Winter Classic.

Minnesota's cold December and January days could be a good indication that the NHL needs to have an outdoor game there as well. While they missed the playoffs in 2010, they have a new coach coming back for his second season (Todd Richards), who is installing a more offensive-strategy to his roster. Plus, think of the possibilities if you have the Dallas Stars come up and play. The team, formerly known as the Minnesota North Stars, going north to face the new team of Minnesota. Rumors are still circulating that long-time Star Mike Modano will be retiring and may be a joint-owner of the Stars starting as early as next season, so the stories for NBC to promote almost seem endless.

Am I also to believe that a battle of New York would not be interesting as well? The Islanders are still not a strong team, but you better believe that they would give their all to destroy the Rangers in an nationally-televised setting. And lets not forget that the NHL once hosted an outdoor game in Las Vegas on September 27, 1991 that featured Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings face-off against the Rangers. Keeping the technology that is at the NHL's disposal in mind, the possibilities for sights of an outdoor game have no bounds.

It seems that it wouldn't take less than 50,000 fans marching into NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's office to convince him that other teams deserve coverage as well. The 2011 Winter Classic is sure to provide excitement and will be a spectacle to watch, but this just feels like the same game that we have watched over and again, this time with a chance of snow and an Ovechkin suspension.

I wonder who Pittsburgh will face in the 2012 Winter Classic...

Stay tuned in with Jeff Ponder's BluesNetMix blog by checking in every Tuesday at bluesnetmix.com.

1 comment:

  1. Can't agree more, you can't have these teams in every game. At least have one team or the other playing a new team. Of course the real problem is that there isn't enough national TV coverage but that won't change by putting the same two teams on every time.