March 10, 2016

These outdoor Classics aren’t so classic anymore

by Dan Bilicki In: Ice Hockey

It’s getting to the point where the NHL could start advertising that they’re playing an indoor game.

With Wednesday’s announcement of three more outdoor games for the 2016-17 season, to go along with the previously announced Heritage Classic in Winnipeg in October, that’s another four to go with the 18 the league had already played in modern times.

After the first modern outdoor game in 2003, it was five years before the league held one again.

It became an annual tradition on New Year’s Day to hold the Winter Classic and it felt like a truly special event.

Well, not so much anymore.

In 2014 there were six games within three months. Last season there were, thankfully, just two and this season there are three. With four next season, that’s 22 total, but 15 in the past four seasons.

This used to be a nice tradition – an annual event that got fans to perk up in their seats with a little bit of spectacle. Now, it feels more watered down than ever.

Next season’s Winter Classic isn’t even taking place on New Year’s Day, it will be on Jan. 2 when St. Louis hosts Chicago.

This means the Leafs are actually getting screwed out of playing the league’s marquee game.

While outdoor games do get a boost in ratings for their novelty, the one game that gets the NHL its biggest rating of the season is the Winter Classic. But don’t expect much of a boost for Leafs-Wings.

Sure, it’s on a holiday and will be a nice event, but it has some serious competition.

The Centennial Classic will be facing off with Week 17 of the NFL season and the usual assortment of NCAA bowl games. Even in Toronto itself, the world junior ice hockey tournament will be taking place, making the Classic secondary in its own market.

At least the Leafs will have to stop complaining about the league ignoring their 100th anniversary. Although they can start complaining about getting a pity game while the league celebrates the Blues’ 50th anniversary.

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