Coming up this week, we have 3 outdoor games from the NHL. That’s 3 times as much as we’ve seen in any given month in NHL history.
This past off-season, the NHL introduced this idea, of a set of 4 outdoor games, and gave the reason of wanting to spread the love and get more teams playing outdoors. They must have missed the boat a little bit, because 3 of the 7 teams participating have already played outdoors in a Winter Classic. Also, by the time we get to the Wednesday night game in New York, the “special” aspect of the outdoor game will be lost on most hockey fans, especially Rangers fans, who will have seen their boys in 2 outdoor games in a week.
First, we have Los Angeles’ branch of the Series, where Dodger Stadium will host the Kings and Anaheim [Mighty] Ducks. On the field of the Stadium, aside from the NHL rink, there is street hockey, a stage for KISS, and a beach. A beach? Next to ice hockey? Yeah. A beach. This games’ special aspect, is that they are playing outdoors in a warm climate. Game time temperature is said to be in the 60’s or 70’s Fahrenheit. I think it’s neat, but it’s not original. The Kings and Rangers played a preseason game at Caeser’s Palace in Las Vegas before, and it was rather hot that night. It will be neat having people show up in shorts to watch an outdoor game, but we know that the technology is there and will work, so this ends up being gimmicky.
Next, we go to Yankee Stadium in Bronx, NY, for 2 games between the 3 New York teams (one’s New Jersey, but everyone outside the tri-state area calls them together). This series is, I think, just to say they played hockey at the legendary Yankee Stadium. The fact that they have 2 games there is just to get all 3 teams in the area involved. The Devils/Rangers match will have more of a Winter Classic-y feel to it, being an afternoon game in the biting cold, but the Islanders/Rangers match will be less “special” because the Rangers had gone through this experience 3 days earlier, and it’s the second game at the Stadium. Not to downplay the rivalries being present, the Devils’ game will probably be more exciting for the fans, due to it being the first game there, and that rivalry has been more present recently. If the series stopped with just that game, it’d be more fine. Now it just leaves it incomplete, with the Devils and Islanders only getting one game, as opposed to the Rangers, who get 2. I know the Rangers are the big team in the area, and they got there first, in the Original 6, but we should at least even things out and make it less obvious that the NHL has a love affair with Henrik Lundqvist.
Finally, we stop at Soldier Field in Chicago, home of a certain football team known as da Bears. The Chicago Blackhawks will host the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 2nd in the most unnecessary outdoor game ever. Spreading the love would include two teams that have NOT played outside before. These are two teams that have, multiple times in the Penguins’ case. Chicago has hosted before. Sure, they are changing venues. But NBC seems to have every Penguins or Blackhawks game on, when not showing the Flyers or Rangers, at least. There is no novelty here, even if they change venues to Soldier Field. Nothing new, as of now, to make it worth the NHL’s while to try and make this “special”. Fans of any team outside the Blackhawks and Penguins would probably be upset that their team isn’t getting a fair shot. This is just the most obvious case of trying to dig more into two big fan bases for more money.
The Winter Classic, and to some extent the Heritage Classic, are fantastic for the league, and should be continued. That once per season for each the US and Canada puts on a good show for the sport, just look at this year’s Winter Classic. But the Stadium Series is just full of gimmicks that aren’t quite so novel, and waters down the product of outdoor hockey. I hope we never see something like this again, or else it might spell the end for desire of outdoor hockey, and then no one wins.