Who will play in the 2012 Winter Classic? All signs are pointing to the New York Rangers having one of the slots and it is about time the Classic comes to New York. Let’s look at the prerequisites to host a Winter Classic.
First, it should be an American city. Canada now has their Heritage Classic, which is played on the Sunday before Family Day in Canada, which is also the day before President’s Day in the United States. With a major television network carrying the event in the U.S., the game has to have a decidedly American flavor. New York, last time I checked, was in the lower 48.
Second, the city should be a cold-weather city. The NHL’s refrigeration truck is a marvel, but I do not think the technology is there to withstand 70 degree temperatures. If you looked at the ice in Pittsburgh last Sunday night, the rain and the above freezing temperatures made for a watery mess for some of the third period. The backdrop of palm trees would be nice, but it would not be practical.
Next, the game should involve a big market team to maximize viewership. There is no bigger market than New York. Three of the four American teams that comprise the Original Six have already been represented in the game: Chicago, Detroit, and Boston. Two of those three – Chicago and Boston – have hosted the game.
Who would the Rangers play? Regional rivalries may not play as well to a national audience. For all of the talk about ratings and big markets, the NHL has done very well with Washington-Pittsburgh, Philadelphia-Boston, Detroit-Chicago, and Pittsburgh-Buffalo, which can all be termed regional rivalries in the Northeast or the Great Lakes areas. So, maybe we shouldn’t discount a Rangers-Devils or Rangers-Islanders game on the grand stage. If not, the Rangers could go up against just about any other team. How about an Original Six-Next Six East-West matchup with the Rangers and Kings? The idea of the two biggest media markets coming together to help a sports league that could use all of the press it can get could push this matchup over the top.
Since the Canadiens are in this year’s Heritage Classic, the only Original Six team that has not played outside or booked to play outside would be the Toronto Maple Leafs. So, would a Leafs-Rangers game be that far-fetched? The Leafs were so hard up for the outdoor experience, the Leafs held a practice outside in a city park. The Bruins played in last year’s Winter Classic, but that has not stopped the NHL from tapping the Penguins twice. Then again, Zdeno Chara and Tyler Seguin do not quite have the same cachet as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But, the Bruins and Rangers are rivals for the better part of a century.
Whether the game would be in the friendly confines of Citi Field or, more likely, the vast expanse of the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, the New York area would be a perfect host for next year’s Winter Classic.