The NHL is staging its final two outdoor games of the year this weekend.
Pittsburgh travels to Chicago to face the Blackhawks at Soldier Field Saturday night, and the Canucks will host the Senators at B.C. Place in Vancouver on Sunday in what is being marketed as the bi or tri-annual "Heritage Classic." These two will round out six outdoor games that the league staged in a time period from the Winter Classic on New Years Day up to this Sunday in western Canada.
Let's get this out of the way first. Everybody knows that these outdoor games have been popular. Dan Craig, the man who made a rink in Los Angeles, proved doubters wrong in January, and we had hockey at Dodgers Stadium for the first time ever. New York finally got its moment to shine with not one, but two games at Yankee Stadium and all three have gone off without any issues.
These games also generate a lot of money, which no professional league will say is a bad thing. But you know the old saying: "Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing."
Taking the game outdoors really caught on in 2008 after the Sabres and Penguins played at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The weather gave the stadium a "snowglobe effect" and Sidney Crosby scoring the game-winning goal in the shootout was the perfect ending. Since then, we've had hockey at Wrigley, Fenway and the Big House at Michigan.
It's the Winter Classic that is at risk with five more games being scheduled outside following the premiere game that has kicked off the new year since 2008.
The hype surrounding these games in Chicago and Vancouver has been small compared to the excitement in Los Angeles and the Bronx. The date in which it falls at an odd time in which the league is coming back from the Olympics. Not even three days after these teams play their first game in over two weeks, they're getting ready to play a game outside.
For example, Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz's week will have consisted of playing in a gold medal game in Sochi, Russia and wraps up with an outdoor game at Soldier Field in front of 60,000 fans on Saturday. Not an easy week.
Playing so many outdoor games could take away from the novelty that is the Winter Classic. The NHL is already thinking about a game at AT&T Park in San Francisco with the Sharks being the host team. Over-saturation of these game could be avoided in the next few years if you simply cut the number of them in half.
Here is a simple blueprint.
The NHL stages a Winter Classic on New Years Day, have the Heritage Classic played by two of the seven teams in Canada and then you choose a site that many doubted would ever have an outdoor game. If they could build an ice rink in southern California and keep it frozen, what's stopping them from doing it somewhere warmer?
Either way, people in the local and major hockey markets will watch. These two games this weekend will get fantastic ratings, and the NHL will point to the sellouts and viewer numbers and say "Hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
While that might be true, the National Hockey League should take a page from the NFL. That league wants to add two more playoff teams in 2015 and have a Monday night playoff game. That is an example of taking a product that is already good, and trying to stack more on top of it, hoping that it never collapses around them.
The NFL is the king of the four major sports in this country and can pull it off and get away with it. But the NHL needs to be careful. If it can pull off six outdoor games a year, than they better be aware not to saturate these type of games to the point where numbers start going down for the Winter Classic and the other games in the future.
Less is more. Especially for the National Hockey League and these events.
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