It was a great day for hockey in New York. Clear skies and winter whispering throughout Citi Field. Yes, the tenth Winter Classic was a good one.
Sure, it could have been a little warmer, since the wind-chill outside made April games here feel downright tropical, but there’s no need to nitpick the Rangers 3-2 overtime win over the Buffalo Sabres.
For a league that had so many public relations disasters and work stoppages, this is something the NHL does right. Bringing the indoor game outdoors just seems right and the crowds may have shivered, but all 41,821 seemed to love every minute of it.
Now at 4-0 in outdoor games (5-0 if you include the win over Mystery, AK in 1999), the Rangers seem to love hockey under the open sky. Two Winter Classic wins and two Stadium Series wins, make the Blueshirts the kings of pond hockey.
“All the people that put this together, the league, and I think they do such a great job,” said goalie Henrik Lundqvist. “I could easily play one every year. And I would not be tired of it, because you play the two games, but to get this opportunity in front of so many people and excitement around the game, it doesn’t get old to me.”
It’s not old, but it may be time for The King to hang up outdoors. Since the Winter Classic is such a home run for the league, maybe it’s time for the league to showcase the other two area teams. The Rangers are a sure thing. They have the fanbase and the backing, so there never was a doubt about this game would have been a sellout.
The Islanders and Devils, on the other hand, make you wonder. Even though both are exciting young teams, seeing a few empty seats may happen and no one wants to see that.
The solution, though, is simple. The Sabres were brought in to highlight their team too. So if the league wants to give the Isles or Devils a shot, have them play the Bruins or the Flyers, with a fanbase that travels well. That way you will get your sellout and maybe create a few fans of those teams too.
More importantly, the league needs to spread the wealth. It’s easy to put the Classic in the Northeast or the Midwest, where it’s generally cold and snowy on Jan. 1, but other teams need to become involved too.
Sure, NBC wants a sure thing. The Rangers, Bruins, Capitals, Blackhawks and Penguins all fall into that category, but if you keep highlighting them then the rich will keep on getting richer. It’s time for a team like the Isles or Devils or maybe even Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets to be tapped in the future. That way those fan bases will get excited.
Now the Islanders and Devils will have to wait their turns. The Classic won’t come back here for a number of years and when it does, the hope is both of those teams will be powerhouses.
When it happens, the opportunity needs to be seized. Fanbases must come out and support their local club, be it at Citi Field, Yankee Stadium or even the Meadowlands.
The opportunity should be there for those clubs. It’s the only way to truly grow the league. Otherwise the rich will get richer and that is not a good thing for the NHL.