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How Many is too Many NHL Outdoor Games?

Apparently the tagline “Winter has arrived” does not exclusively apply to the new season of Game of Thrones. The NHL has apparently adopted it as their mentality as well. After recently re-announcing the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings as the contestants for the sixth edition of the Winter Classic more outdoor hockey could be on the way. Reports have surfaced that as many as five new outdoor games will soon be announced by the NHL including: Kings vs Ducks, Devils vs Rangers, Islanders vs Rangers, Penguins vs Blackhawks and Canucks versus Senators.

Early signs of this fact came out shortly after the Winter Classic announcement. Several sources, including player agent Alan Walsh, reported that the NHL would soon announce a second outdoor game that included the Los Angeles Kings. At that time it wasn’t known where the game would be played and who the opponent would be, or whether Walsh had correct information. But with the Anahiem Ducks becoming their alleged opponent this instantly becomes the most scrutinized and intriguing game of the freshly introduced five.

The main question, provided with the information that the game will be playing in California at Dodger Stadium on January 25, is how they are going to make an outdoor game work in the heat. Obviously the NHL are aware of a new technology that can make the “California Classic” a possibility. The 2011 Winter Classic was in limbo due to falling rain and it is acceptable to speculate that the 2014 California game could have even worse conditions.

The game itself should be interesting for other reasons as well, provided that this is the first time this demographic has been involved in an outdoor game. The Kings and Ducks are true rivals, and should prove to be an exceptional one for those reasons. It could definitely be a statement day for hockey in California. This game also has the potential to be a real embarrassment, if the weather and ice making equipment do not co-operate.  Yes, we know the NHL once held an outdoor exhibition game in Las Vegas, and while that was over 20 years ago, one most hope that there have been great advances in technology as the ice that night was a disaster according to most who were involved in the event.

While the California Classic in many ways overshadowed it, the underlying question regarding this announcement is whether the NHL has gone too far. The Winter Classic has lived up to its name in every way since 2008 but could the amount of outdoor games water down the overall product? The answer is sadly a yes. The league has stepped too quickly to take advantage of a successful production.

At maximum, the NHL should be considering three extra outdoor games. This is a one game increase from the Heritage Classic/Winter Classic combo of the past and a sustainable project for the NHL at this point in time. This will give the NHL a sort of safe trial period that could help them make decisions about future outdoor endeavors. It doesn’t mean that this many games will be played outdoor on an annual basis. Although that could be the case if the test year goes incredible well.

One of the more likely reasons the NHL looks set to announce so many outdoor NHL games has to do with an apology. No not to the fans. Instead, the NHL will be looking to apologize to the television networks that run their games and were left without content for the better part of this year. Letting the NHL players go to the Olympics had already been touted as the apology token from the league to its right-holders but at this point there is no guarantee. What the league can offer is the incredibly popular outdoor game, and plenty of them to go around. Truthfully too many of them to go around.

If the maximum number of outdoor games the NHL should attempt in a single season is four, how do they narrow it down to that number? The California Classic should definitely stay because as stated above it is an interesting experiment for the NHL and one that could be fruitful if successful. The Vancouver-Ottawa game also allows two new teams to play in an outdoor game and could take on the role of another Heritage Classic. BC Place with its new retractable roof provides the perfect venue for the event.

As for the Penguins-Blackhawks matchup while it could potentially be a big ratings game for the league and its networks it should be cut. Both teams have already participated in at least one outdoor game. The Blackhawks should be given the home ice advantage for next years Winter Classic but not against Pittsburgh. Perhaps a real rival would serve as a more suitable opponent for the Blackhawks. If the league is going to expand the number of games exposed to the elements they should at least place some new teams into the fold.

This leaves the two New York Rangers games. It was a questionable decision at best to give on team two outdoor games at the same venue during one year. Even if the New Jersey Devils are the supposed “home team” for their alleged game against the Rangers. In fact the Devils-Rangers game should be the other that is cut, making way for the more historical battle of New York. While this game would prove to be the Rangers day out it would truly be a massive marketing opportunity for the Islanders. The team has a number of incredibly talented players and is on the verge of becoming a consistent playoff team. This game could mark the rebirth of a rivalry. Plus everyone is a little curious as to what insane uniforms the Islanders would dream up for the game.

Six outdoor games are just too many. But nonetheless the pending announcement from the NHL should add plenty of intrigue to what should already be an incredibly interesting 2013-14 season.

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Main photo credit: andrewwinn via photopin cc


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