Now that second installment of the Winter Classic has been played with the success of Wrigley Field in Chicago being an historical stage for the event, now it's time to ponder THE question.
What city should be the host for the next outdoor National Hockey League game? Whether this game would take place in 2010 or a year or two after that, it would be on the minds of many that enjoyed each of the first three outdoor games the NHL has staged in its history.
Here are my top five cities for whom I want to be the next host city...
1. New York City (Yankee Stadium) -
It was the original city of choice for the NHL in each of the first two Winter Classic events that were planned and held, but logistics got in the way of finalizing them as the host city. The Big Apple lost out especially for yesterday because it would not have been possible to hold the Winter Classic now and then have enough time for the original Yankee Stadium to be torn down and area cleanup and renovation done before the Yankees' 2009 opening day at the new ballpark. The same issues exist now for Citi Field with the demolition of Shea Stadium.
Being the largest city in the United States and among the top four hockey markets in the NHL, this is a no-brainer. With the Original Six franchise and high marquee value New York Rangers as the host, this would potentially provide the kind of media exposure for the NHL last seen since the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals. The one difference is that the Rangers aren't the caliber team they were 14½ years ago. From revenue generated from ticket sales to sponsorships to fan interest, it would likely be the biggest financial boost for the sport and the NHL. This is despite being a close second behind the Toronto Maple Leafs on the 2008 Forbes franchise value list.
If it is in 2010 or 2011 (depending on if it is not held during the same time period as the 2010 Winter Olympics), the Rangers should host either the Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Montréal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs or either of the two local rivals in the Islanders or New Jersey Devils. Sean Leahy of his Going Five Hole blog had made the suggestion the Rangers should host the Washington Capitals (obviously to do with showcasing Alexander Ovechkin). I doubt that would fly because the Capitals aren't the same kind of rival as the other Atlantic Division teams and Original Six foes. The problem with the Rangers playing the Islanders or Devils is that it would not appeal well with a national audience as it would locally. Look at the 2000 World Series between the New York Mets and New York Yankees for example.
2. Minneapolis (TCF Bank Stadium) -
Given the State of Hockey is considered to be the largest regional hockey market in the country, having the Minnesota Wild host an outdoor game would be perfect for a place that celebrates its favorite sport outside in the cold. The team already connects with its fans and what better way to bring more out than to have it at the new TCF Bank Stadium, the future home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers football team.
Perhaps a game against the Dallas Stars would help drive interest through the roof immediately given the Wild would facing the former Minnesota North Stars. Other opponents I'd like to see considered that haven't participated would be the Canadiens, Rangers, Maple Leafs, St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins or any of Minnesota's other Northwest Division rivals (except the Edmonton Oilers since they participated in the first ever outdoor NHL game in 2003).
3. Boston (Fenway Park) -
The Boston Bruins resurgence this season may have helped recapture interest in their team at about the perfect time that the other Beantown teams are flourishing. The state of Massachusetts is among the top three hockey areas in America and the best way to help get the Bruins and the city of Boston in the spotlight nationwide is to host an outdoor game at Fenway Park, home of the 2004 and 2007 World Series champion Boston Red Sox. It would serve a very similar purpose as Wrigley Field did this year. If the logistics aren't there, the Bruins could always settle with Gillette Stadium in nearby Foxborough, Massachusetts, home to one of the powerhouses in the National Football League in the New England Patriots.
A matchup against the Canadiens, Maple Leafs or Rangers would be a logical selection. The Wild should be considered as well given the idea of bringing two prominent hockey areas onto the same stage would be a winner with the NHL.
4. Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field) -
With the Philadelphia Flyers returning to respectability after a disasterous 2006-2007 season that saw them finish dead last in the entire league, they are a contending hockey club with marketable players such as Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Scott Hartnell, it is a great sports town and plenty of hockey tradition with the famous Broad Street Bullies era. The Flyers facing teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins as a Keystone State rival, the Rangers (as the New Jersey Turnpike separates the two cities by a mere 85 miles), Capitals (with Alexander Ovechkin), Wild or Canadian team like the Maple Leafs that has a rivalry with the Flyers makes for good picks as opponents.
5. Toronto (Rogers Centre) -
Even though the home of Major League Baseball's Toronto Blue Jays is played on Field Turf, the playing area to build an outdoor hockey rink would still work just fine. Maple Leafs fans as well as others from all over Canada and even parts of the United States would come to Toronto to see an outdoor NHL game. For Canadian fans, obviously they'd salivate over a matchup against the Canadiens, but they are celebrating their Centennial with their own showcase event in the 2009 NHL All-Star Game this month. Plus, the Canadiens were in the original outdoor game in 2003. Facing the Bruins, Rangers, Flyers, Wild or Ottawa Senators would make the most sense in terms of matchup interest for both countries. If the Leafs hosted one of the other five Canadian clubs, it would bode well for fans north of the border, but how much would American fans still be interested?
I would give honorable mention to these cities. They would be Denver, Montréal and Pittsburgh.