The Ice Sheet: Don't Count on an Outdoor Game in Montreal
In isolation, it's easy to see the appeal. The last outdoor game held in Canada, 2003's Heritage Classic in Edmonton, was a true celebration of the game in every sense of the word. Given that nobody does hockey history quite like the Habs -- the closing of the Montreal Forum in 1996 was the showstopper to end all showstoppers -- there's every reason to believe that any event that they host be just as compelling.
And that's exactly why the league will probably say no.
Why is that? After all, can't there be room for two outdoor games per season?
It's not an idle question, but it isn't one for you, me or even NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to answer. In the end, that call would probably lie with the folks at NBC Sports. Why do they like the NHL Winter Classic? In short, they don't just like it, they love it, because it's unique.
And it's for that reason and that reason alone that NBC was willing to give the league access to a prime viewing audience on New Year's Day -- a day when NBC Sports is on the outside looking in thanks to college football's Bowl Championship Series. And it's for that reason and that reason alone that advertisers like Amp Energy and Bridgestone Tires are willing to pay a premium to the league for name sponsorship of the event.
I haven't even begun to address the issue of loyalty. After all, it was NBC Sports who embraced the NHL Winter Classic and helped grow it into a monster of an event thanks in large part to a massive on-air and online promotional campaign -- just the sort of advertising that the league could never afford to purchase on its own.
Asking the commissioner to go to NBC Sports to tell them that the league was planning to hold yet another outdoor game wouldn't just be a stab in the back, it would be more like a stab in the chest -- and that's not something the league wants to do heading into the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, where NBC Sports will have their hands on the controls as NHL players take to the ice.
I take no joy in writing any of this, as I'd love to see this game played. But the NHL is a business, and the logic of business and the bottom line say that, at least for now, this idea needs to be shelved for another day.
Every Monday morning The Ice Sheet will take a close look at everything that's happened in the NHL since Friday night at 5:00 PM -- or if need be, anything else the author wants to bleat about. To read them all, click here.