Today marks exactly a week until the final outdoor game of the 2014-2015 NHL season. The final NHL outdoor game of this season will be at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. This game is part of a new series of NHL outdoor games that was started a year ago called the NHL Stadium Series. So what makes the Stadium Series different than its other siblings in the NHL, the Winter Classic and Heritage Classic? Nothing and that is the problem with it.
It’s no surprise that NHL outdoor games have become one of the staples of the NHL regular season and teams across the league are interested in hosting them. It’s a unique atmosphere for both the fans and the players while also bringing back the days of pond hockey from many of our childhoods. However, how the NHL has dealt with this great interest and increase in popularity of the NHL outdoor game has in my opinion actually made them less special, less nostalgic, and most important, less about hockey. In my opinion the current NHL outdoor games types (Winter Classic, Heritage Classic, Stadium Series) need to go back to their roots and focus on their identities as an event. Right now all three NHL outdoor game types speak the same language and don’t do enough to differentiate themselves from each other. A good example of this is how I felt last year about the Winter Classic.
Having attended the 2014 Winter Classic between the Original Six rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings, it was everything I wanted it to be, at least at first. Snow falling from the skies without end, a close game, cold as hell, the largest capacity stadium in the world, the largest attendance for an NHL game ever, etc. But as the season went on I felt that this great achievement of what an NHL outdoor game should be was just becoming a footnote barely visible in the rearview mirror of the NHL. This was largely due to the fact there were 5 more NHL outdoor games following the Winter Classic during the 2013-2014 NHL season. The 2014 Winter Classic just got lost in the crowd so to speak. A good way to look at it would be to imagine 5 Super Bowls during the NFL season, the Super Bowl would just lose its importance. This is exactly what has happened to NHL outdoor games, they are just one of many. To fix this, the NHL needs to limit the amount of outdoor games to one of each type, Winter Classic, Heritage Classic, Stadium Series, while also creating a unique identity for each of those types that differentiates them from the others based on regional requirements. Below are my thoughts on how this could be addressed in each type of NHL outdoor game.
Winter Classic: Max 1 Per Season
The Winter Classic NHL outdoor game is American. So the first step to having a unique identity for the Winter Classic is for the NHL to keep doing what it has been doing and keep it in America hosted by American teams on New Year’s Day. The second step to creating a stronger identity for the Winter Classic is to make “Winter” a requirement. I don’t understand the NHL’s reasoning to host “Winter” Classics in places like Washington D.C. which at most gets maybe 2 days of snow a year. Keep the “Winter” Classics in Northern U.S. cities that actually have winter. Sure I understand that even Northern cities have the anomaly hot, raining winter days but at least there is a good chance it might actually be winter during the “Winter” Classic. In regards to the visiting team, I think the NHL should give every team a taste of a Winter Classic no matter if they are a Southern team or Canadian team. The NHL should just limit who can host a Winter Classic to Northern U.S. teams.
Heritage Classic: Max 1 Per Season
The Heritage Classic NHL outdoor game is uniquely Canadian. The name fits as hockey is deeply ingrained in Canadian heritage. So the first step to having a unique identity for the Heritage Classic is for the NHL to keep doing what it has been doing and keep it in Canada hosted by Canadian teams in the dead of winter. The second step to creating a stronger identity for the Heritage Classic is to make outdoor a requirement. Sorry Vancouver, BC Place had nothing remotely “Heritage” about it being inside whether the roof could be retracted or not. Outside speaks to hockey heritage of being born on frozen ponds in people’s backyards. The third step is to make it truly part of Canadian culture and our “Heritage” by not limiting the game to current NHL markets. Canadians love hockey and I can guarantee that an outdoor Heritage Classic in St. John’s (or any other non-NHL market Canadian city) would sellout in a heartbeat. In regards to visiting teams, again I believe all NHL teams should be given a taste of playing outside in a true Canadian winter of -20 degrees. Just limit the hosts to Canadian cities and home teams to Canadian teams.
Stadium Series: Max 1 Per Season
It’s is not that I hate the Stadium Series, I just hate how many there are proposed/played each year. It takes away from the general uniqueness of the NHL outdoor game. The first step to having a unique identity for the NHL Stadium Series is to limit it to one game a year. This will help both it and its siblings (Winter and Heritage Classics) remain more unique on the NHL schedule. The second step to creating a stronger identity for the Stadium Series is to limit its location to Southern U.S. teams and hosted in the warmer months of the NHL season. This will keep it fundamentally different from the Winter Classic and Heritage Classic unlike last year where all the snow at the Stadium Series in Chicago was eerily similar to the Winter Classic experience in Detroit 2 months earlier. There is something unique and spectacle about playing an NHL outdoor game in balmy weather so that’s why I would go for the warmer months of the NHL season (Oct-Nov, Mar-Apr). Again in regards to visiting teams, why limit it. Just limit the hosts to Southern U.S. cities and the stadium series will be an experience all its own, unique to players and fans alike.
So what do you think of this direction for NHL outdoor games? What would you prefer to see changed for future NHL outdoor games?
Let us know in the comments section below.
Cover Photo: Building of Ice Rink at Levi’s Stadium. Photo by: lakingsinsider.com