While the matchup seems logical, given that the game’s two most recognizable and marketable players — Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin — will be taking the ice, it has some fans a bit disgruntled that the Penguins will be taking part in the event for the second time in its brief four-year history.
Fans of other teams — particularly Canadian teams — are wondering when their Winter Classic time will come.
Sure, the NHL will have a second outdoor game sometime in February at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium between the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens. But it’s not the same thing.
All of this got us thinking.
What other venues should host an outdoor game in the future, particularly the New Year’s Day spectacle? The game should undoubtedly be played at a place that is unique, fun and able to create a buzz in order to benefit the NHL.
Here is a list of 10 places that should be considered in the future. Some are a little more unorthodox than others.
10. Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada
Sure, Las Vegas doesn’t have a hockey team, but that didn’t stop them before. Caesars Palace actually hosted the first-ever outdoor NHL game on Sept. 27, 1991, when the Los Angeles Kings took on the New York Rangers in an exhibition game.
It was 80 degrees and there were 13,000 fans in attendance to see Wayne Gretzky and the Kings beat the Rangers 5-2.
There may have been some complications regarding the ice, but nearly 20 years later, the NHL should have no trouble finding a way to get a Caesars Palace game right.
As far as the competing teams, there are plenty of options — including a rematch of the first time around — with this game counting in the standings.
The bright lights of the Vegas strip don’t exactly resemble the hockey-on-the-pond kind of atmosphere like the Winter Classic has come to symbolize, but it could be an interesting concept.
9. Canad Inns Stadium, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Isn’t it time to welcome hockey back to Winnipeg?
Let’s face it, Winnipeg probably deserves an NHL team more than many of the markets that have one. This would serve as an opportunity for those in the Manitoba province of Canada to see what they are missing out on these days.
Canad Inns Stadium is currently home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League (CFL), and seats almost 30,000.
A new stadium has been approved for the University of Manitoba campus grounds, and is expected to open in 2012, which could potentially be an appealing venue if the NHL elected to go in this direction.
Nevertheless, a sellout in this hockey-hungry city is a given, and a Winter Classic could go a long way toward establishing an NHL presence there once again.
8. Husky Stadium, Seattle, Washington
Like the Manitoba idea, this could also go a long way toward establishing a hockey presence in a market currently without a team — Seattle.
While there are some Vancouver Canucks fans in the area, more could be done by the team to market in the Northwest region of the United States, which is without a team.
Putting the Canucks in a game at Husky Stadium could bring the NHL to the Emerald City, and provide a classic venue.
Husky Stadium is regarded as one of college football’s loudest, and though a Winter Classic may not result in the level of noise that the stadium usually reaches for a college football game, it could be a good change of pace and should attract plenty of Canucks fans.
BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, which hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics, could also be a potential destination if the NHL elected to go in the Northwest direction.
7. Coors Field, Denver, Colorado
The NHL has shown a willingness to turn to baseball parks as potential outdoor destinations. Coors Field would fit that mold. The climate seems just right for winter hockey, and the setting could include a unique aspect.
What if the Colorado Avalanche took on the New Jersey Devils, who for one night could return as their former alias — the Colorado Rockies?
It would be an opportunity for the current Colorado franchise to face off against the former Colorado franchise.
Of course, the Rockies moved to New Jersey and became the Devils in 1982.
Perhaps such a Winter Classic could even take place during an anniversary year of the move.
To add even more irony to the mix, the game would be played at the home of the current Colorado Rockies (the baseball team).
The game could be just as special as it is confusing, with the Rocky Mountains painting an attractive backdrop.
6. Beaver Stadium (Penn State University), College Park, Pennsylvania
According to MapQuest, Beaver Stadium on the Penn State University campus is a three hour and 29 minute drive from the Wachovia Center (home of the Philadelphia Flyers) and a two hour and 37 minute drive from the Mellon Arena (home of the Pittsburgh Penguins). In essence, this could be the Pennsylvania War.
While putting the Pittsburgh Penguins in their third Winter Classic game and the Philadelphia Flyers in their second sounds silly, this matchup could be awesome to have at some point.
As a matter of fact, given the recent success of both teams, there may be no time like the present.
The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, after losing in the finals in 2008. They have the history, the current success, the fan base and the face of the NHL.
The Philadelphia Flyers are currently battling with the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals, and would provide a gritty matchup against the more finesse Penguins.
In fact, there already has been a Facebook group created in an effort to get this exact game played.
The drawback here, though, is whether there would be any league-wide interest in a Classic featuring two teams from the same state.
5. Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia
The NHL has shown a desire to go global in recent seasons. In fact, the 2010-11 season will begin with three games played in Helsinki, Finland; Stockholm, Sweden; and Prague, Czech Republic.
If the league is going to continue with this trend, why not experiment with an outdoor Classic overseas?
With the amount of superstars hailing from Russia in the NHL, it makes a lot of sense.
As a matter of fact, Russia already has hosted the KHL All-Star Game outdoors in Red Square, which was deemed a success.
If the NHL elected to branch out, the Russian population would probably love the prospect of seeing Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk or any of their other talented superstars on one of hockey’s biggest stages.
There are a number of other overseas venues that could host such an event, but Luzhniki Stadium, which is used mainly for soccer (or football, as it’s referred to over there), is the biggest in Russia.
Sweden is another overseas country that has had success with an outdoor game in the past, although it was not NHL-sanctioned.
4. Cowboys Stadium, Dallas, Texas
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is trying to do just about everything with his new $1.3 billion stadium.
Cowboys Stadium has hosted the NBA All-Star Game and will be home of Super Bowl XLV in 2011.
As for other plans, Jones has some in mind. They include hosting the World Cup, installing a swimming pool for Olympic swimming competitions, and yes, bringing hockey to the Lone Star State.
“We could obviously do something like that,” Jones told ESPN.com. “We’ve had communication with the NHL.”
Hockey in Dallas doesn’t exactly scream tradition, but why not use the owner and his embarrassment of riches to benefit the NHL?
3. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California
Another warm-weather location that strays a bit from the “classic” aspect of the New Year’s Day competition, Dodger Stadium would still be an interesting choice to play host.
We’ve already had Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, so why not Dodger Stadium? Having been built in 1966, it is the third-oldest ballpark in the major leagues.
Plus, the Los Angeles Kings are a franchise on the rise. The game could feature some young stars of the future, including Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick, and would satisfy those NHL fans in California who consistently get overlooked when it comes to these kinds of talks.
2. Rogers Centre, Toronto, Ontario
The Toronto Maple Leafs have seen better days after finishing with the second-worst record in the NHL in 2009-2010. Still, they deserve to play in a Winter Classic.
Besides being an Original Six team and the lifeblood of their city, the Leafs have shown that they will pull out all the stops in an effort to put a winning squad on the ice. This was made evident by their massive roster overhaul this past season.
A Rogers Centre Winter Classic also could allow for another Canadian team to join the festivities. The Ottawa Senators or Montreal Canadiens are two teams that could make the trip and provide a solid matchup for the Leafs.
Olympic Stadium in Montreal could be another possible Canadian host venue, but a game there would defeat the purpose of the outdoor concept.
If the roof were to stay open at the Rogers Centre for a showdown on New Year’s Day, however, the event could potentially generate a lot of interest, draw a big crowd and thus be a success for the NHL.
1. Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York
Bringing the Winter Classic to the original Yankee Stadium has been talked about since the NHL started its recent string of outdoor games, yet it hasn’t unfolded the way that many anticipated. Still, bringing the game to the new Yankee Stadium makes too much sense not to occur.
After all, the new stadium needs some memories of its own — although last year’s World Series certainly helped take care of that — and an outdoor hockey game could do the trick.
Throw in a Rangers-Islanders New York rivalry game, or even a Rangers showdown with a Canadian team or the Bruins, and the new Yankee Stadium will be in the process of building quite the resume in its short history.
Everything associated with the New York market is big time, so such a game seems like even more of a no-brainer for the NHL.
A 2014 game with a 20th anniversary celebration of the 1994 Stanley Cup champion Rangers sounds about right.
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