According to a report from the reliable Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the 2011 NHL Winter Classic will take place on New Year's Day at Heinz Field and feature the made-for-TV rivalry between Ovechkin's Washington Capitals and Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins.
The news of the combatants is not a surprise. Although this year's Winter Classic at Fenway Park was an artistic success for the league and a civic triumph for the city of Boston, television ratings -- though strong enough to rank as the second-highest regular season game in 14 years -- were down 10 percent from the 2009 Classic in Wrigley Field. It did not help that the participants, the superstar-less Bruins and the Flyers, were in the midst of disappointing seasons.
In the aftermath of the Fenway Classic, there were numerous reports that the league and broadcast partner NBC were going to swing for the fences with the next one. While the Pirates' PNC Park was ruled out for its smaller capacity, the league appears to have struck a deal with the home field of the Pittsburgh Steelers. More than 60,000 fans will be able to see the game at Heinz, almost double the capacity at Fenway.
"I'd like to be involved with it," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said "Why would I be opposed to it? Like anything else, if we were lucky enough to be involved in that game, I'd love to have it in our area to show the country how good of fans we have, but that's not for me to decide."
Any thoughts of a Winter Classic at the new Yankee Stadium were scuttled when the Yankees entered into an agreement to host a college football bowl game during the holidays for the next five years. The NHL prefers a two-week preparation period to turn stadiums into outdoors rinks.
Some members of the NHL's Board of Governors will not be thrilled that the Penguins will be playing in their second Winter Classic, while 23 teams have yet to be scheduled for one. Team owners could point to a New York Times story about the Boston Classic creating $8 million in ticket revenue for the NHL and $3 million in advertising revenue for the network and say, "What about us?" That's when Bettman can get NBC Sports boss Dick Ebersol to do a league conference call to say, "Sorry, folks. Deal with it."
"It would be great, be we'll wait to see what happens," Capitals forward Eric Fehr said. "We were rumored to be playing in it this year. A lot of stuff can happen before then. We'd love to play in that event, for sure."
If the NBA had an outdoor game, it would be LeBron's Cavaliers against Kobe's Lakers. Since hockey is a business as much as a sport, no one can blame the NHL for pitting its two biggest stars against each other on the NHL's grandest stage.
If anything, after playing in the iconic fields of Wrigley and Fenway and then showcasing Ovechkin vs. Crosby, the bigger question is, what could the NHL possibly do in 2012?
FanHouse's A.J. Perez contributed to this story from Washington.