Winter Classic Should Prop Up Games That Need It

Washington Capitals goalie Don Beaupre blocks the puck in the second period of the Bridgestone Winter Classic Alumni Game in Pittsburgh on December 31, 2010.  UPI/Archie Carpenter Photo via Newscom

Not to be a jerk, but I’m just not too excited about this year’s Winter Classic.

I’m a bit excited in that it’s the NHL’s time to shine in American sports, assuming the game actually gets played.

The thing about the Winter Classic, though, is that while it has pomp and circumstance and gravitas and Bob Costas, it doesn’t have a lot of great hockey.

The quality of the outdoor ice usually isn’t great. With choppy ice and often-rough weather conditions, the speed of the game is usually lost, too.

So while it’s cool to see NHL stars outside, playing a game that counts in the standings, if you take away the fact that the game is being played outside, in actual weather, it’s just kind of slow, college-esque hockey.

I get why the NHL wanted the Capitals to play the Penguins. I get that it makes business sense to have two of the league’s biggest stars facing off in a big, outdoor game. But really; would you rather see Crosby and Ovechkin looping over choppy ice, trying to keep upright, perhaps even contending with rain, unable to use their full speed or strength, or would you rather see both going full-force under ideal indoor conditions?

If you don’t watch much hockey, you might not care. But I would wager most fans, especially Pittsburgh and Washington fans, would rather watch their teams and their stars play their best under ideal conditions, rather than trying to make the best of mother nature.

The fact of the matter is, the Winter Classic is a gimmick. It’s a cool gimmick and a successful gimmick, but it’s a gimmick nonetheless. It doesn’t result in better hockey. It’s just something different.

So let’s call the Classic for the gimmick it is and not squander something great and special, like Ovechkin versus Crosby, on it.

In his weekly email blast, Mike Heika suggests the NHL should consider a Winter Classic with the Stars facing Minnesota in Minnesota. It would be the one-time Minnesota North Stars facing the current Minnesota Wild. It’s a neat hook and it would spotlight two teams that rarely, if ever, get spotlit.

And let’s be real for a moment — the Wild probably don’t even play all that differently outside and in snow than they do inside. I’m not sure most people would notice a difference in the speed of their attack. And it couldn’t possibly result in less movement on their powerplay.

Minnesota-Dallas during the regular season and indoors wouldn’t attract any attention, so it would really benefit from being the Winter Classic game.

The NHL doesn’t have a ton of non-playoff games that are truly exciting, must-see games. Any time Pittsburgh plays Washington, it’s a huge occasion. Why is the league wasting a huge game like that on the Winter Classic? Why not use the gimmick to prop up a game that needs some help?

Why not grow the NHL brand beyond Pittsburgh and Washington? The league is actually more than those two teams.