14 October 2008
So lets talk about the winter classic a little. I think everyone agrees last season was a rousing success, and everyone is looking forward to watching the Wings play the Blackhawks at Wrigley this season. I think everyone can agree that, despite the success, there's always ways to improve even a good thing. So here's a few Ideas I have for the game. There are some things people have talked about changing that needs to be upheld, and a few minor tweaks I'd like to see. Here they are:
Continuation #1: Make it an annual event
There is a small debate ongoing about whether making it a yearly event will diminish the event, because of overexposure. I think this is a very valid concern that needs to be addressed (see Adjustment #1, next) but I don't think taking a year off of it is the proper solution. The Winter Classic is a gimmick, but suspending it for a season makes it look like a cheap gimmick, while playing it every season makes it a celebration and a tradition. As weird as it sounds.. making it an annual event gives it credibility as an event.
Adjustment #1: Hold the game in Canada once every 3 years: The only place that anyone is worried about it losing its luster is with the American sports media, and the American sports fan. By sending the game north of the border, between 2 Canadian teams, every third season the game will maintain its luster without becoming a tired event. Some some casual American fans will be less enthusiastic every 3rd season, but those same fans will be even more excited when it returns to the states the following season. The die-hard Hockey fans in the states will tune in no matter what anyways.
Also one of the biggest contentions with Gary Betteman is that he ignores his base of die hard Canadians in order to try and draw in the casual American fan. By making it a Canadian affair every third season it will become a celebration of the roots of hockey and the national game of Canada. Since there's only six Canadian teams one of them will be a participant at the very least once a decade.
Continuation #2 Rivals
The game works best with Rivals. Sabres-Penguins isn't the biggest rivalry in the NHL, but they are geographically close to each other and were both coming off of solid seasons. Chicago-Detroit is a great old time rivalry. If possible try to keep the games between inter-division rivals (and if not at least inter-conference). We don't need to see Rangers-Lightning in New York, when Rangers-BruinsIslesDevils works so much better.
Alteration #2 Make a trophy
If the NHL does one thing better than anyone in the world... it's kick ass trophies. This is an opportunity for the NHL to add to it's repertoire of their celebratory arsenal and design a kick ass trophy awarded to the winner of the game every season. For an event that's already a celebratory event, a cool trophy presentation for a rare event would only enhance the day. I would also recommend that the winner is allowed to put a graphic of the trophy behind the nets, signifying their win, until the next winter classic. (note: You could even add in a game MVP.. but i think think that might be taking it a little far, but still within the realm of possibilities)
Continuation #3 Leave the game on Jan 1:
The game itself is a celebration. January 1st is routinely a continuation of the previous nights celebration, and the Winter Classic fills that niche perfectly, and can fill the void (in the states at least) that has been vacated by a college football season that has long since moved their most important games to later dates. The Winter Classic doubles as a hangover killer, and hangover generator, depending on your style of celebration. Sometimes the best course of action is to recognize when something works. A Jan 1st day game works for everyone. Changing it to a different day will rob it of it's celebration atmosphere.
Alteration #3 Rename it
The NHL has had the Heritage classic and the Winter Classic. both sound fine, but the NHL has a long tradition of coming u with the coolest names for everything. Sure Betteman has ruined some of this with the change to geographic based division and conference names but this is a chance to make up, at least a little, for that. Personally I would prefer the O'Ree classic, complete with the O'Ree cup. But I could be persuaded to name it the Howe classic, the Plante Classic, the Beliveau Classic or even the Gretzky Classic.
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