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.