SBD/Issue 76/Events & Attractions

NHL Turns Winter Classic Focus To '11; Are Two Games In Play?

Penguins-Capitals Could Be The Featured
Attraction In Next Year's Winter Classic
Friday's Flyers-Bruins game at Fenway Park marked "another successful Winter Classic" for the NHL, and now the league is "looking ahead to 2011, where the tentative plan is to hold two outdoor games if possible," according to Eric Duhatschek of the GLOBE & MAIL. A tentative plan calls for the first game "in its regular slot, on New Year's Day," while a second matchup in Canada would be "part of the annual Hockey Day in Canada celebrations." The rumored favorite for next year's event in the U.S. was Yankee Stadium, but a "conflict with a proposed college football bowl game may make that impossible." If the Yankee Stadium game does not materialize, then the "second choice appears to be Heinz Field" for a Capitals-Penguins pairing, with Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, the NHL's "two most marketable players, going head-to-head." An outdoor game in Canada "will likely land in Calgary, with the Flames as host team" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/4). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun said a Capitals-Penguins matchup in the Winter Classic next year would be a game "some people at the league would absolutely love to see January 1." He said Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis told him that he "really want(s) my team in this thing next year." However, LeBrun noted, "If Pittsburgh gets in, I think some owners will have their nose out of joint because they obviously played in the first Winter Classic" ("HNIC," CBC, 1/2).

NEXT IN LINE? In DC, Tarik El-Bashir cited an NHL source as confirming that the Capitals are the "strongest candidate to participate in the fourth annual game next New Year's Day." The source said, "The league will be looking to work around the Capitals to get them into this game." El-Bashir noted those talks "will begin in earnest after the Olympic break in February." Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau: "I think we should be in it because we have the most exciting player in the world and we want to expose him to as many TV sets as possible" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/1). NBC Sports Coordinating Producer Sam Flood said, "There is no doubt that Washington is worthy of playing in the Winter Classic, and it is our goal to fit them in soon. Everyone knows about Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the Caps, so it is in our best interest to put them on in the Winter Classic" (WASHINGTON EXAMINER, 12/31).

Mets "Ready, Willing And Able" To
Host Winter Classic At Citi Field
BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITI: Mets COO Jeff Wilpon last week said that he has "notified the commissioner that the Mets are ready, willing and able" to host the Winter Classic at Citi Field. Wilpon: "I've had several conversations with Commissioner Bettman and have informed him that we'd love to have the game. Gary has told me that he and his team will come out and do a site visit early in the year, so I know that we are going to be under consideration." In addition, Wilpon said that he has spoken with MSG Chair James Dolan and Islanders Owner Charles Wang about a possible Rangers-Islanders game at Citi Field. Wilpon: "There's interest there. I know the Islanders very much would like to do something." But in N.Y., Larry Brooks noted NBC is not "thrilled at the concept of presenting a single-market game to the national New Year's Day audience" (N.Y. POST, 1/3). ESPN's Barry Melrose said, "The only way you beat this is I think you've got to go to a city like New York, you've got to throw down the gauntlet to the Rangers fans. You put it in the Yankee Stadium or maybe the new Mets stadium" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/1). In N.Y., Klein & Hackel noted an '11 Winter Classic at Yankee Stadium "seems unlikely" because the plans to stage a college football bowl game at the park between December 25 and January 1 would put the game "within the minimum one-week period the NHL mandates for rink construction" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/3).

WANT TO BE A PART OF IT: In New Jersey, Andrew Gross reported NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman this weekend indicated that discussions on the host cities for '11 "would not begin immediately." Bettman: "We want a community where the game can have an impact, first and foremost, in addition to a good market that we think will support the game. We need the right facility. And, obviously, we have to be in a place where we think the weather will be OK." Rangers GM Glen Sather said the club would "be happy to be a part" of the Winter Classic if the NHL was interested. New Jersey state officials are "pushing for a Devils-Rangers game at the new Meadowlands football stadium," but while the NHL "very much wants the Rangers involved, the league does not want to present such a regionalized matchup." Meanwhile, Bettman said of playing in football stadiums, "The football schedule is a little more complicated. We get more time to set up and tear down and use more events when the team, like a baseball team, isn't playing for weeks. Being in a football stadium, even if we schedule around it, we have got to worry about playoff games and what's barely a two-week window" (Bergen RECORD, 1/2). Former NHLPA Dir of Player Affairs Glenn Healy said the league needs to get the Winter Classic "in one place, and it's New York City." NBC has to "put pressure on New York to get this thing to make it happen." But the CBC's Mike Milbury said, "And so it begins, the rape of the Winter Classic. They've got something that's beautiful, pristine, pure, and now we're going to sellout to every network" ("HNIC," CBC, 1/2).

THE BEST OF WHAT'S AROUND: ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote each of the three Winter Classics has "managed the impressive feat of being better than the previous one," and the NHL's "challenge is in making sure future events follow this pattern." The league for the first time "opened up a bid process to come up with a host for the 2011 game," a process that will "force teams to think outside the box in suggesting venues and activities that will 'wow' the league." That bid process will "close around the end of the Olympic break in February." Burnside wrote the Winter Classic "has to be about more than just having good fans," and by its "very nature has to have classic elements." Denver should be considered to host "if the NHL is looking to keep some sort of balance between the two conferences," while Minnesota is a "natural given the state's long love affair with the game." Burnside: "In the end, the challenge of maintaining the Classic's magical spark isn't about being fair, it's about making the right choices. Given the standards set the past three years, continuing to make those right choices will become more and more difficult" (ESPN.com, 1/1). Meanwhile, the CBC's Elliotte Friedman reported Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones is "inquiring as to whether he could host the game in the future" at the new retractable-roof Cowboys Stadium. Friedman: "It would be an enormous financial windfall, but of course it wouldn't be a true Winter Classic. Let's see if they investigate it" ("HNIC," CBC, 1/2).

Writer Says NHL Needs To Connect
Fans More Intimately To On-Ice Product
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION: In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont wrote the NHL "pulled off their Winter Classic with grace and panache," and the league now needs to "figure out how to connect the paying customers more intimately to the on-ice product." Many ticket-holders at Friday's game "barely knew what was happening when the game clock was running," and the "experience of following the puck was akin to watching an Agatha Christie play." Dupont: "Whodunit? Whopassedit? Whoscorredit? Whotheheckknows?" The NHL needs to "hook up with the Jumbotron folks and find a way to park the plasma high over center ice." The league also should "pipe the on-ice noise into the PA system for everyone in the park to hear," because "not being able to listen to the shots, the checks into the boards, or the on-ice officials' whistles is just plan lonesco sur glace" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/3).

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