Every Monday during the season two of our hockey writers will debate one topic. It's the 2-on-1. After both spending New Year's Day at Fenway Park, Chris Botta and A.J. Perez discuss the future of the NHL Winter Classic.
Chris Botta: A.J., I thought the Winter Classic at Fenway was a triumph for the NHL. Now the big question is, where does the NHL go from here? They have hosted back-to-back Classics at iconic baseball stadiums with Original Six franchises with impassioned fanbases. Nothing the league can do should be able to match Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. That's not to say they couldn't do other things and have another big-time success. So I ask you, A.J., what should the league do next? What do you think they'll do next?
A.J. Perez: The third Winter Classic was a major success, I agree. But many fans I ran into Friday said there's a trade-off in being at a baseball stadium. The sightlines aren't great and maneuvering around wasn't fun. I think it makes sense to go back to a football stadium like the first Winter Classic in Buffalo and the Heritage Classic in Edmonton. I'd take the new Giants Stadium -- or the Rose Bowl.
Chris Botta: Probably just a little too warm in Southern California, but I do think you're on to something. After going the classic ballpark route twice in a row, it's time the NHL went for grand scale. Pick a big joint -- Giants Stadium or FedEx Field in Washington are the lead candidates for football stadiums right now -- and pack the place.
This is the place where we should note, contrary to what's been reported by some very reputable journalists, that the new Yankee Stadium is not an option. The Yankees have a contract with college football to host a bowl game for the next five years between Christmas and New Year's Day. The NHL wants at least a week, and preferably a lot more, for set-up. By the time the rink is cleared at Fenway after Friday's college hockey doubleheader, the NHL will have called Fenway home for a month. The one New York baseball stadium available is CitiField.
A.J. Perez: Since you have to rule out all the West coast teams because NBC would likely want to keep going on the air at 1 p.m. ET, I think we'll be at an East coast football stadium. The easy choice is the new Giants Stadium. I think the Rangers-Capitals makes sense. Of course, a game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin and the Caps wouldn't be a bad deal either.
Chris Botta: I disagree that West teams will be ruled out because of the start time. Sooner or later, NBC would have to be flexible. The Western host just might have to start the game at 11 a.m. or noon. But you bring up another tricky part of this by mentioning Heinz Field as a possibility. Like Gary Bettman mentioned on Friday at Fenway, every team is banging on his door to be part of a Classic. Even with the star power of Crosby and Co., do you think the league has the guts to go back to the Penguins in the next year or two? I'm not sure.
Let's throw out the game in Edmonton for this discussion. Six teams have played what they've branded the Winter Classic over the last three years. I can imagine the uproar if a franchise gets in a second one soon. Flyers fans I spoke with in Boston acknowledge that they won't see a game in Philadelphia for a long time because they just participated as the vistors. That's why I agree with you that the next one in the United States -- site to be determined -- will definitely feature Ovechkin and the Capitals.
A.J. Perez: It's all about the ratings in the States. I think seeing teams repeat in the Winter Classic will happen sooner rather than later. If there's a team west of the Mississippi involved, the Avs hosting a game at Invesco Field in Denver makes perfect sense if a Broncos game doesn't interfere. I would also like a Canadian team in the mix following a U.S. game. New Year's Day 2011 is on a Saturday. How good would it be if there was a Hockey Night in Canada game featuring two Canadian teams?
A.J. Perez: I don't think many Canadian cities will have the issues we do down here with soft ice. As big a hit as these outdoor games are every year, it should be limited to two. The novelty may already start wearing off now that the event has been held at the most celebrated baseball stadiums. It will be further diluted by having more than a couple each season. And nobody says the second has to be on New Year's Day. Canadian teams could stage this at any point during the regular season and it would be huge news north of the border. That would give Mr. Craig time to oversee both surfaces.