MLive.com is reporting, like we had discussed last week, that the NHL has finalized a deal to hold the 2013 NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium. The game will reportedly be between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs in the second "Original Six" matchup in the game's six-year history.
Despite reports that Red Wings and Tigers owner lobbied to have the game at Comerica Park, home of the Tigers, the NHL was unwilling to pass on the idea of having over 110,000 fans crammed into "The Big House" for a hockey game.
According to MLive's report, though, Comerica Park will also house a second rink that will host a number of festivities:
To appease Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, a rink will be constructed at Comerica Park. The home of the Detroit Tigers will host other events leading up to the Winter Classic, including the alumni game and possibly the Great Lakes Invitational.
The events will officially be announced at news conferences at Comerica Park and Michigan Stadium in early February, after the Red Wings return from a four-game trip to Western Canada and Phoenix Jan. 31-Feb. 6.
As a Yahoo! Sports article suggested last week, the Winter Classic will be the only event held at Michigan Stadium, as all the other extracurricular activites will take place roughly 30 minutes away at Detroit's Comerica Park.
The news of the 2013 Winter Classic certainly brings stability to the event for another year after a very late announcement of this year's game between the Flyers and Rangers at Citizens Bank Ballpark. However, the report, if true, isn't met without some concerns.
While the NHL will go to great lengths to provide itself with another signature outing at Michigan Stadium next January, one wonders how things could've been different:
A big crowd in "The Big House"
Obviously, the biggest draw of Michigan Stadium is it's ability to hold upwards of 110,000 fans. It was enough to take the game out of the actual host's home city for the first time. Granted, the distance between Ann Arbor and Detroit isn't much, but it's still notable.
Last year's Big Chill at the Big House between Michigan and Michigan State drew 113,411 fans to Ann Arbor. The NHL's current attendance record was set in the inaugural Winter Classic at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium, which hosted 71,217 for the game between the Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins. The NHL expects to shatter that record, something they would've been unable to do if they agreed on hosting the game at Comerica Park.
It will also be interesting to see how NHL ice guru Dan Craig performs having to craft two ice surfaces as opposed to one. For his sake, we hope the weather cooperates with him.
The NHL, and more importantly--NBC, had previously stayed away from the Canadian markets, always preferring to have two teams from US cities competing in first five Winter Classic events. Now, with the allure of two Original Six franchises and the thousands of Canadian fans who will flock across the border to see their beloved Maple Leafs play outdoors, they couldn't resist.
But is it the right move? After all, the NHL knows very well that any event featuring a Canadian team will sell out instantly. That's just the kind of hockey-crazed lives our neighbors to the north live. As far as growing the game in non-traditional markets, though, the Winter Classic has failed to deliver thus far.
Given the nature of the game and the conditions needed for a successful outdoor hockey game to be played, namely a chilly game-time temperature, many NHL markets are automatically eliminated from hosting the event, at least for now. Rather than punishing fans in warmer climates, such as Nashville, San Jose, Los Angeles and Carolina, they could celebrate these teams by including them in games in the colder markets.
Just another game?
Another difference with the choice of teams for next year's game as opposed to previous years is the implications it will have on the standings. You can make the argument that at the end of the day it's still a game that's worth two points, like any other on the schedule. But when the Rangers and Flyers played this year, after flipping back and forth for the Atlantic Division lead almost every day through December, it seemed like losing a game to another team in your division would hurt more than most.
Next year, we'll have our first inter-conference Winter Classic. Does that make the game less meaningful? For example, let's pretend the Red Wings and Leafs played in this year's Winter Classic. On January 1, the Red Wings sat comfortably in fourth place in the Western Conference, three points behind the Blackhawks for the Central Divison and conference lead.
The Leafs, however, were in 10th place in the East, two points behind Ottawa for the final playoff spot. Wouldn't you think that game, even if the Red Wings were hosting it, would mean far more to the Leafs as far as the standings were concerned?
Gearing up for another matchup of "old-school rivals?"
Sure the Leafs and Wings will most likely make for a great game, but it seems as though the NHL is trying to force another "rivalry" on us, like they did with the matchups of Penguins and Capitals in 2011 and the Rangers and Flyers in 2012. Admittedly, it's worked so far.
But to call the Red Wings and Maple Leafs rivals hasn't exactly been accurate since the Leafs moved to the Eastern Conference prior to the 1998-99 season. NBC and the league will certainly play up the fact that both teams are "Original Six franchises" ad nauseum, but is there really any hatred between the two teams, or even between the fans?
Why not include a team like the Sharks, who've met the Red Wings in the playoffs each of the last two seasons? Granted the "allure" of the Original Six matchup wouldn't be there, but it would be replaced by something tangible from the past few years, not historical connections between the teams that have been glorified over the past 70 years.
Setting a precendent to host a future Winter Classic?
We've seen this before. The Red Wings will be the third team to host a Winter Classic after being the visiting team in a previous year, following the trend of the last two seasons. Could this put the Leafs in position to host the Winter Classic in future years? While the 2014 Winter Classic is already rumored to go to the Capitals, the road team in last year's game at Heinz Field (see, we're on to something here), the Leafs may have their sights set on 2017, their 100th year in the league.
What better way to celebrate 100 years of NHL history than with the league's flagship event? It may very well take four years to iron out all the television rights and semantics, so they'd better start getting to work now.