There are 30 NHL Teams, Not 23

 

With this years version of the Winter Classic in the rear view mirror, speculation has begun as to who will participate in next year’s annual showdown. Rumours were swirling yesterday that the city of Detroit would host the classic, but their opponent for the game was still unknown. While it hasn’t been confirmed, an original six city like Detroit makes plenty of sense. Considering the Red Wings are an elite franchise in the NHL and the city itself has earned the moniker ‘hockey town’, Detroit would be ideal for next years classic. With Wings owner Mike Ilitch also owning the MLB’s Detroit Tigers and it’s Comerica Park stadium, it seems like only a formality that Gary Bettman and the NHL hold their annual jewel in the motor city.

Time For Some Canadian Contingent 

The Philadelphia Flyers – New York Rangers game was the fifth version of the now lucrative Winter Classic. Of those five games four of the six original six franchises have participated (Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks and the Rangers). Two teams have twice been involved (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) while the Buffalo Sabres round out the participants having hosted the first ever official WC. What you may have noticed there was that no Canadian team has ever been included in these games. With the only two remaining original six franchises (the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens) excluded from the festivities like unwanted step children.

What has become obvious whether intentionally or not (in my opinion it’s definitely intentional) is that the NHL – or more so NBC – does not want a Canadian market involved in the WC. However is that really fair? History and tradition are to aspects that make this game as compelling and interesting therefore how do you legitimately ignore the two most successful and storied franchises that your league has?

Another crucial element of these games are the fans. The atmosphere of these games are created by knowledgeable and involved fans. People who follow both the Leafs and Canadiens are well aware as to how great the fanbases are for these two franchises. Wherever the WC is held, if either the blue and white or bleu blanc et rouge is involved rest assured the fans will travel, and travel well.

Keep Your Charity 

Of course there is absolutely no way the NHL will do the right thing and have the Leafs and Canadiens square off against one another, if you think the league doesn’t want one Canadian team in their Winter Classic, then two teams would be downright laughable. What has happened in the past is that two Canadian teams end up playing a ‘Heritage Classic’ which is just a stupid placating gesture to the Canadian markets. I don’t want Bettman saying “well, you can have an outdoor game too, but just not the Winter Classic”.  Fuck that. I don’t want a watered down version. With the inclusion of the fantastic HBO series 24/7 becoming a trademark leading up to the Classic, I want all the bells and whistles that go along with it. It’s time that the NHL proved that they are not prejudiced against the Canadian markets by awarding them a place in their most important game of the season. Should they not then just come right out and admit what most people believe, that the priority are the American teams. I believe that it’s reached the point where Bettman has cornered himself into putting a Canadian team in the WC just to prove that they are equal in the eyes of the NHL.

A Lost Rivalry 

With the Leafs being the the NHL’s most valuable franchise, I think it may be time to flex some of the muscle that they have. If next year’s game is held in Detroit then the opponent should be the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs and Wings have both a geographical and historic rivalry. Personally I hate the Red Wings, and most Leaf fans my age generally agree with me. While the two teams were split up following the 1998-1999 season, the bad blood between these two fanbases still exist.

Selfishly I’d love to see the Wings and Leafs in ‘hockey town’ next year in an outdoor game. Of course I’d also love to watch HBO follow the Leafs around leading up to the game. I’m also quite positive that the appeal of the Leafs would translate. The Leafs have a large portion of their fanbase in the United States, so the ratings would most likely remain consistent for HBO. In fact it might create an ‘us against them’ dynamic in the US which could actually boost both HBO’s and NBC’s ratings.

As Leaf forward Nazem Kadri tweeted yesterday “Leafs @ redwings at the michigan stadium next year? Thatd be crazy #needstohappen.” While logistically it makes sense on so many levels this is the NHL. What will most likely happen is true hockey fans will once again be deprived of an intriguing match-up between the Wings and Leafs and instead be spoon fed an irrelevant Columbus Blue Jacket team instead. With the Ohio team being the other rumoured opponent for next years Winter Classic, it feels like once again the Canadian component of the NHL will be let down.

28 Comments

Kyle Andrew Busch's picture

If Columbus is the opponent for the Wings...what a screw up. I would love to see Toronto come to town at the Big House or Commerica Park. It just makes sense.

Marco Perruzza's picture

Huge following for both teams, and what a great spectacle to have those two organizations square off. As a Red Wings fan who would be your ideal opponent for a Winter Classic? I'd naturally assume the Blackhawks, but that's already happened.

Kyle Andrew Busch's picture

The CHI rivalry is shoved down our throats, they've met once in the playoffs and there isn;t really bad blood from what I see. But Toronto? You bet, I'm from Windsor and it's 50/50 Wings/Leafs fans here. It would be awesome to see TO

Hockeybroad's picture

Kyle - If you think the Blackhawks-Red Wings rivalry is "shoved down our throats", then you don't know your team's (DET) history very well. The Hawks and Wings have played more games against each other than any other two teams in the NHL. They have a long and storied history against one another and it's more than just "once in the playoffs".

George Prax's picture

I think the fact that they play each other the most is exactly Kyle's point Tongue

Marco Perruzza's picture

I also think with Kyle stating in his profile that he began watching hockey in 1997/98 has plenty to do with him not being familiar with the Wings/Hawks rivalry. I apologize if that offends you Kyle, but throughout the 90's (and throughout their history) the Hawks and Wings went pretty hard against each other in the old Norris division. Trust me these two teams don't like each other from way back. Watching Yzerman and Fedorov take on Roenick and Chelios was a treat.

Marco Perruzza's picture

I'd love to hear what fans of other organizations think. What teams should be in next year's Winter Classic?

George Prax's picture

I'm on the fence about this. On the one hand, I understand the point of the Winter Classic -- to celebrate hockey while attempting to build new fans, especially in large markets. That's why there are HBO specials and NBC coverage and all that. The Habs and Leafs already have all the fanbase they need, they don't need a Winter Classic. I know the Habs have been in them twice, but I'm perfectly happy getting the occasional Heritage Classic and I feel like you might feel a little different if the Leafs got one too.

On the other hand, you do have a point. There are 30 teams, not 23. An all-Canadian WC doesn't need to happen, but why not celebrate some of the better rivalries in the league by putting the Leafs against the Wings or the Habs against the Bruins? I don't think it would negatively impact ratings on NBC or HBO, in fact it could add a new dimension to it. It's not fair that we're treated like second class NHL citizens.

While there are teams that might need it more, the simple truth is that they've run out of excuses. Outside of the Jackets and the Wild, there's really no other northern US team to go to. They're going to have to go to Canadian teams eventually.

Marco Perruzza's picture

I'm so jaded by Bettman and the NHL offices. I'll only believe that a Canadian team will be in it when I see it. As for the HC, yes it's cool and I'm sure it's nice to see. My problem though is that it's not the real thing. The hype of the HC compared to the WC is nothing, give a Canadian team the big pizza not the little slice.

George Prax's picture

Well then instead of whining, Canadian teams should make the heritage classic as good as the Winter Classic or better. Give them an HBO Canada or Movie Network produced special, put it on TSN / CTV so it doesn't have to be bogged down by the ridiculousness of CBC, give it a great match-up like Montreal-Toronto with warm up matches leading into it, make it special. Technically the Heritage Classic pre-dates the Winter Classic. I don't know why we need American networks to make it worth watching, Bell Media can match anything any American network can put on the air.

Marco Perruzza's picture

I'm cool with that. Considering most of the audience for the HBO lead in and the Winter Classic itself is Canadian then your point is valid. Would the NHL allow four teams to be followed continuously though and jeopardize their cash cow? I'd be happy with your suggestion, but it still would sting since it's not the 'real' thing.

Patrick Storto's picture

Brian Burke on HBO? Sign me up!

Makes me wonder if the NHL told Burke he had to re-sign Wilson for a year to be on HBO if he wanted to be in the WC.

George Prax's picture

Yes I'm sure Ron Wilson was the dealbreaker.

Marco Perruzza's picture

If the Leafs re-sign Grabo look for him to be a breakout 24/7 star. I like Wilson, and I think his relationship with his players gets a bad rap. I'd love to see the HBO camera's take note of the madness of the Toronto MSM.

John Russo's picture

I know the neighbors up north won't agree but I want to see a Minny/Dallas Classic at the U of Minny field and both wear North Star jerseys. But unfortunately, both teams lack in the "being a good hockey team" department.

I understand why the NHL isn't using Canadian teams and i think it's terrible. Montreal/Boston, Toronto/Montreal, Vancouver/Calgary, Edmonton/Montreal, etc would all be fun match ups.

George Prax's picture

While it may be as bad as leaving Canadian teams out, I think the prerequisite for being in a Winter Classic should be that snow isn't an anomalous occurrence in your city. But Minny should get one at some point or another, despite not being the best team, Minnesota should qualify as relatively hockey crazy. That state was built for winter sports.

Marco Perruzza's picture

It would be great to see a Minnesota - Winnipeg game. The atmosphere in Minny would be great, and those two teams can develop a nice rivalry in time. Underrated star power in Evander Kane and Mikko Koivo as well.

Hockeybroad's picture

Minnesota-Winnepeg had a good rivalry back in the day - hope we see that again. Wild-Stars would be a great matchup - draw in those southern viewers; show one of the newer, but stronger rivalries on the upswing (which will only be reinforced once they meet several times a year under the new conference layout).

evilbobsaget's picture

Well let's face it guys, all the Canadian teams other than Vancouver suck!! They also lack "superstars" like Crosby, Ovechkin or the great legendary Ryan Callahan. NBC need to make its commercial spots attractive to vendors. It's hard to sell add space when half the audience is in another country.

That said, if the intent of the Winter classic is to promote the game, why not have it in a third party location. Somewhere that has some hockey value but no NHL team. Milwaukee, Cleveland, Portland, Seattle, Rochester, Hershey come to mind.

With technology todays it wouldn't be unfeasible to have a outdoor game in New Orleans, Houston or even Los Angeles or San Jose. Maybe Miami and Phoenix would be out of the question. But there are winter public outdoor rinks in all these cities.

Why not have 2 Winter classic games one in Canada, on in the US and have a day and night game?

George Prax's picture

They do have 2 of them sometimes, it's called the Heritage Classic. That's what Marco is complaining about. He wants the whole shebang, not the equivalent of getting two Xboxes for Christmas so your younger, mentally challenged brother doesn't fee left out.

That said, I like the idea of putting it in some cities that don't have teams. Problem is attracting crowds.

As for Southern cities, it won't work. They have trouble enough making good ice in places where it actually is cold. An outdoor rink for the kids is one thing, building one for NHL standards is a whole other ball game.

Marco Perruzza's picture

I think having the highest scoring American in Phil Kessel is a big enough star for the United States. As for not having the audience in the states for a Canadian team is bogus. Both the Leafs and the Habs have huge fanbases in America, and they would be just as involved if not more so than the peripheral fan from Philly or Pittsburgh. As Wings fans have mentioned to me as well, they would love to see Detroit - Toronto. Think of how much more engaged the Detroit fans would be if it was between classic rivals and not a forced Columbus rivalry.

George Prax's picture

The "star" argument is an interesting one, considering the Flyers pretty much don't have any american players and the biggest starts of 24/7 were Russians and Canadians lol. I think it has less to do with star power and more to do with local allegiances. It's easier for an American just getting into hockey to get swept up in a big American team than a Canadian one. The league doesn't want to create new fans for Toronto or Montreal, they want to create fans for New York and Pittsburgh located close to southern NHL cities. That has to be an important consideration.

Marco Perruzza's picture

That's a very good point, but why not create new fans for both the Leafs and Habs? It's crazy to think that New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh people were introduced to hockey through the Winter Classic. Those teams have a long history and have been very successful. If the Stanley Cup winning teams didn't bring the fans to hockey in Pitt than the WC definitely won't. As for Philly and NY those two markets have a strong core fanbase and then a population that couldn't care less regardless of what was going on with their respective teams. If that is the argument then the WC should be between Phoenix and Carolina, or Florida and Dallas. Reward the fans that you do have by giving them the opportunity to play on the biggest stage.

Of course the Stanley Cup finals is the biggest stage in hockey, but we all know the NHL would never allow a Montreal-Toronto final. They'll probably tell the officials to ignore a blatant high sticking penalty to make sure a California based team qualifies instead. Just an example!

George Prax's picture

Why is it crazy to think that people are introduced to the game via the Winter Classic? There are plenty of people in Toronto and Montreal even that known little to nothing about hockey. While the Winter Classic markets are good markets, they're still markets that aren't saturated. A national platform, NBC and HBO coverage, that helps create new fans and a new holiday tradition. If you walk down the streets of New York, I'm sure that you'd find plenty of people that didn't even know about the Rangers, and even more that didn't know very much about them. If you put them in a situation where they're easily exposed to those teams that can only be positive. On the other hand, I believe most Canadian markets to be saturated. Why would the NHL want to create more fans for those teams, especially in a different country, when they have 20 teams south of the border that could use and frankly need those fans more?

There's a limit to this argument, which is why you can't put southern teams in there or struggling teams, but I don't think it's necessarily more positive to have two Canadian teams in there. But again, I think it would be good to expose an American market to one Canadian team in there versus an American team.

Hockeybroad's picture

I don't agree w/ the argument of "why build American fans for Canadian teams". Americans getting into hockey = they spend money on merchandise; they spend money to go see games. Does it *matter* if they support a team that's in their home state or if it's over the border? Kind of a weird way to go about *not* marketing, if you ask me.

George Prax's picture

Location is definitely very important for the NHL, are you kidding? This isn't football where you can have Jets and Giants fans in California and Dolphins fans in Texas, the lines in the NHL are clearly drawn by area. The issue is that the NHL itself is a business, that has 30 businesses to manage. As much as I agree that there are 30 teams and not 23, the simple truth is that a majority of them are in the US, and most of the struggling ones are in the US. Is a new fan more important to the Canadiens, who sell out the league's biggest arena every game and would still do so if half the season ticket holders suddenly gave up their tickets, or one of the teams that's in debt and can't fill half their arena?

As for East vs West, you're taking it too literally. The Winter Classic is an outdoor game, and winter weather has to be considered. Eight American teams in the East get normal winter weather, compared only four in the west, six if you include Colorado and St. Louis which could be a stretch. Of those four, only two are markets that have earned their Winter Classics based on attendance and market viability, compared to each of the eight teams in the East, save for maybe the Isles and possibly the Devils. Of course they're going to cater to the Eastern market. Not only is it more populated in terms of snow-bound cities, but as you mentioned yourself the markets are older and more established. But sure, let's put a Winter Classic in sunny Los Angeles and see how that goes over.

Hockeybroad's picture

Also, so far, the Winter Classic has blatantly catered to the Eastern market fans. The Eastern half of the league (as defined by the area marked out on the map by Pittsburgh-Montreal -Boston-Washington) has the oldest hockey markets and the deepest saturation of fans. The league clearly wants to keep building non-traditional markets; but ignoring strong Western teams (Sharks, Kings) is sign - and a discredit - to those fans. "Yeah, we'll take your money, but we're not going to be inclusive. We FEAR that it MIGHT not be popular." #headdesk Match up a solid, well-performing sunbelt team that has a decent rivalry with a snowbelt team that has a huge fanbase. IE, Detroit-San Jose; or Blackhawks-Sharks/Kings.

Personally, I can't think of a matchup I would love more to see than Blackhawks-Canucks. The Blackhawks have one of the biggest fanbases in the US, which means lots of willing eyes already tuning in. The Canucks drew a lot of attention through last season's Stanley Cup Run. They share an incredibly intense rivalry; the teams are loaded with talent that appeals to both sides of the border. (Kesler, one of the Canucks top stars, is American, of course - worth reminding fans about.) Imagine the pre-WC smack talk. Imagine the look into hockey from a Canadian perspective. Think about how international a blend of players both teams have. It would be *fantastic*.

George Prax's picture

I just wanted to say I thought of this scene from Star Trek when I just re-read the title of this article:

http://img.youtube.com/vi/moX3z2RJAV8/0.jpgThere Are Four Lights - YouTube