Over the weekend, 104,214 people attended outdoor hockey games at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Yankee Stadium in New York. Each contest delivered record local ratings. Nearly three million people watched regular-season games that otherwise wouldn’t have been worthy of 20-second highlight packages if they were played indoors.
Fans love these games. The league loves these games. The players love these games. It's pretty rare when that happens on this big of a scale.
The menage a trois of hockey love will be on display again Wednesday night when the New York Rangers and New York Islanders play at Yankee Stadium, which is sold out after early lagging ticket sales.
Many thought there were too many outdoor games—six in all—on the docket this year, but the demand still seems to be there. That’s what makes NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins telling NHL.com that the league will scale back on outdoor games next season so surprising.
John Collins, the League's chief operating officer, said Friday at Dodger Stadium that the League will "definitely" be holding fewer than six outdoor games next season, but he wouldn't put a number on how many and he wouldn't say where they could be other than Washington, D.C., which has already been announced as the host city for the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2015, at a still to be determined venue against a yet unnamed opponent.
One reason why outdoor games are so popular is they are new. It’s human nature to crave fresh experiences, and that’s what the outdoor games are at this point. Although the Winter Classic has existed since 2008, local markets that likely will never be part of the NHL’s regular-season crown-jewel event can still host a game that would do very well.
As long as the Winter Classic features marquee teams on New Year’s Day, it will always be a ratings bonanza no matter how many other games take place during the season.
That’s why it makes sense to get every team involved, even if it's only on a local scale. The NHL should capitalize on the fact that it’s a niche league where a fan in Carolina might not necessarily care about what’s happening in San Jose. Outdoor games besides the Winter Classic will rarely be huge national draws but will always do well regionally.
I’ve devised a plan that would get every team involved in an outdoor spectacle next season. Each stadium conversion requires about two weeks worth of work, so a third or fourth ice crew and additional ice trucks would be required to make this work in some cases. I’m sure the already overworked Dan Craig wouldn’t mind the NHL contracting others to build rinks throughout the season.
This would also would require the facilities I selected to be available and willing to host an NHL game. But since these games have all been moneymaking juggernauts, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Every NHL team wants an outdoor game, and as the game at Dodger Stadium proved, it doesn't matter if you're in a warm-weather region.
Here’s my plan, which is admittedly unrealistic, for getting every NHL team involved a Stadium Series game during the 2014-15 season.
The 2014-15 (Fantasy) Stadium Series Schedule
October 4, 2014—Toronto Maple Leafs at Montreal Canadiens
It’s not an outdoor game, but opening the season on Saturday night in the former home of the Montreal Expos would be a unique experience in Canada. Fans would pack the building, and ratings in Canada would be monstrous.
The problem with having any games between October and January is stadium availability. Baseball is played through October. The NFL runs through the end of January. The CFL season is played from June until November.
But a big reason to have no outdoor games after the opener is to maintain the special nature of the Winter Classic. There would be nearly three months between a season-opening stadium game and the Winter Classic in this theoretical schedule.
January 1, 2015—Boston Bruins at Washington Capitals
The 2015 Winter Classic is rumored to be between the Flyers and Capitals, but holding out the Flyers sets them up for a better Winter Classic in 2016. The Bruins' huge fanbase and Alexander Ovechkin’s star power still makes this an event worth watching on New Year’s Day.
January 23-25, 2015—Baseball Stadiums
Jan. 23—Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks
Jan. 24—Vancouver Canucks at Anaheim Ducks
Angel Stadium of Anaheim
Jan. 25—St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild
The NHL just showed an outdoor game in California is not a problem, and mid-January would be the perfect time to bring it back next season. The Wild could host an outdoor game anywhere in Minnesota and have fans fighting each other to get in the stadium, but Target Field is a new facility that would provide a pretty setting.
February 14-15, 2015—College Football Stadiums
Feb. 14—Colorado Avalanche at Chicago Blackhawks
Notre Dame Stadium
Feb. 15—Pittsburgh Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets
There are few things that match the atmosphere of a packed college football stadium, but a packed college football stadium with a hockey game taking place inside of it comes close.
The Avs and Blackhawks would have no trouble filling Notre Dame Stadium. It may be asking a lot for Penguins fans and Jackets fans to do the same at The Horseshoe, but with Sidney Crosby going against the local team on the rise, it’s doable.
February 28-March 1—Outside in Canada
Feb. 28—Calgary Flames at Edmonton Oilers
March 1—Ottawa Senators at Winnipeg Jets
Investors Group Field
An outdoor game returns to Edmonton, where the Heritage Classic in 2003 began the whole outdoor phenomenon in the NHL. The average temperatures in Edmonton and Winnipeg in late-February are in the high-20s or low-30s, so the climate shouldn’t be an issue.
March 27-29, 2015—The NFL South Series
March 27—Carolina Hurricanes at Nashville Predators
March 28—Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning
Raymond James Stadium
March 29—Phoenix Coyotes at Dallas Stars
These are very likely the least sexy matchups on the schedule, but they should do very well in those regions. These games would also likely have to be night games, but as was proven at Dodger Stadium, it can be done. Would 80,000 people show for a Coyotes-Stars game? Fair question, but the drawing power of these events makes me think the game would come close to filling the house Jerry Jones built.
April 10-12: The NFL North Series
April 10—Buffalo Sabres at Detroit Red Wings
April 11—New Jersey Devils at Philadelphia Flyers
Lincoln Financial Field
April 12—New York Islanders at New York Rangers
The NHL's final weekend will feature three outdoor games. The Red Wings deserve to play in a stadium with a roof on it after two frigid outdoor games at Wrigley Field and Michigan Stadium.
The Stadium Series would close with two rivalry games that would surely sell out. Yes, it would be the second straight year of Islanders-Rangers, but this game would be on a weekend afternoon with perhaps a playoff spot on the line.
If your gut reaction to this idea is late-season games being played outdoors is unfair to teams in playoff races, it's quite the opposite. Every team will now have two points on the line in a stadium contest as opposed to now, where only a handful are subjected to it. From a competition standpoint, it would balance things.
An outdoor game in January is worth the same amount of points as an outdoor game in April.
For the following season, each team that was on the road would get to host a game. The Kings could host the Red Wings at the Rose Bowl. The Blues could host the Blackhawks at Busch Stadium. The Canadiens could visit the Bruins at Foxboro Stadium.
By taking the Flyers out of the 2015 Winter Classic, it would make a 2016 Winter Classic between the Flyers and Penguins at Beaver Stadium on the Penn State campus more viable. It would be a game that would rival the one played by the Red Wings and Maple Leafs this year, as Beaver Stadium can hold around 107,000 people.
This is probably impossible to set up for next season, but it is clearly something that can be done in the future if the NHL wanted to expand the Stadium Series to everyone. Would 15 games in a season ruin the magic of playing outside?
Only time will tell.
Here are some stray thoughts about hockey:
•It was nine days ago when Stars captain Jamie Benn launched himself into Wild forward Matt Cooke. Despite it looking like a brutal elbow to the head, Benn escaped any punishment for the hit. Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that the league viewed the hit by Benn as a defensive one, which is legal under NHL rules.
But was it an elbow that came into contact with Cooke's head?
Here's a frame-by-frame look at the contact, which was provided by the Department of Player Safety:
It's not 100 percent conclusive, but it sure does look like Benn had his elbow tucked. Yes, Benn does make contact with Cooke's head, but it appears to be part of a full-body hit. In those cases, hits like that are legal.
Now that Benn has been absolved, let's talk about the notion of defensive elbows to the head being OK. Why is it illegal to get your stick up into someone's face if they are about to check you but not your elbow? That doesn't appear to be what Benn was doing in this case, but the NHL should look into making any and all elbows to the head equally illegal.
•Steven Stamkos had a non-setback setback Monday when there was too much pain in his mending leg to skate. He returned to the ice Tuesday at Air Canada Centre in Toronto and skated for about 20 minutes and said he felt better. But when speaking with reporters, Stamkos remained open to the possibility that he may not be ready when the 2014 Sochi Olympics begin in two weeks, per Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com:
If I say that I'm at the level I think I need to be at to compete at the Olympics, I think (general manager Steve Yzerman) is going to have the trust in me that I can go over there and play at that level. But at the end of the day, I have to be honest with him. If I say I'm not ready, obviously I'm not going to go.
Stamkos is expected to play on the right wing at the Olympics. If he can't go, who is best suited to replace him?
It could come down to Lightning teammate Martin St. Louis and Flyers captain Claude Giroux. Both have played extremely well since being snubbed; St. Louis has eight goals and 13 points in 11 games, while Giroux has four goals and 12 points in 12 games.
It seems that St. Louis makes more sense, as he has more experience on the right wing. But clearly Yzerman wouldn't hesitate to snub him if he feels Giroux or someone else is more deserving.
•On a related note, Team USA snub Bobby Ryan hasn't exactly responded well to being left off the team. He has one goal and three assists in 10 games. If a spot comes open between now and Sochi, it's unlikely he'd get the call.
(If you’d like to ask a question for the weekly mailbag, you can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, fire your query at me via Twitter at @DaveLozo or leave a question in the comments section for next week.)
That question is from famous baseball writer Jesse Spector, who used to be famous hockey writer Jesse Spector before making the switch. He clearly still misses hockey, so let's indulge him because it's a good question.
In baseball, the advantage to batting second is you get to see what you need to do in order to win. You know how many runs are needed to win, essentially. You always want last licks. You can create a strategy based around being down two runs or up two runs.
In hockey, it's a little different. There are only three innings as opposed to nine. You score in the top of the first in baseball, you've got 27 outs to erase the lead. In hockey, you have three.
But there's no real advantage to going first or second in hockey. It's not as though anything changes if you shoot second, and the other team scores first; you're objective remains the same. In baseball, if you're down two in the bottom of the ninth, you can pinch hit or pinch run in a desperate effort to tie the game. In hockey, your shootout order is determined before it starts.
If I were a hockey coach, I'd always want to shoot first unless I had an all-world goaltender. If my goaltender is Henrik Lundqvist, Tuukka Rask or Jonathan Quick, I'd lean on them to sap the life out of the other team by starting the shootout with a save.
I lack the resources to sift through every shootout since 2005-06, but I'd love to know the numbers on shootouts won or lost by the team shooting first or last.
A rumored Stamkos deal that wouldn't have ever happened. But still, it's quite interesting when a team gives up on a 23-year-old with as much offensive upside as Del Zotto.
I think no matter what, this is a deal that five years from now won't produce a true winner or loser. Del Zotto would have to develop into a 50-point, top-pairing defenseman, while Klein would need to be an injury-riddled disaster. A hockey trade where each team is getting equal value on players who can help right away is pretty rare, but that's what this is.
The way this trade will be judged, unfairly I might add, is on the team success as much as each player's individual performances. If the Rangers get to the conference final this year or next or continue to be successful in the postseason, Del Zotto realizing his potential won't reflect poorly on them.
Besides, if Del Zotto blossoms in Nashville, it doesn't necessarily mean it would've happened in New York.
It's a bad statistic. It's perhaps not quite as bad if you want to look at a player's plus-minus after a 15-year career, but even then it's not a great indicator of how a player performs at either end of the ice.
I wrote a story about a year ago on John Tavares. At the time it ran, he was minus-41 in his career. But digging into that number, I found that he had been on the ice for 26 empty-net goals against. It was the product of the Islanders being a losing club and coach Jack Capuano pulling his goaltender far earlier than most when down by a goal or two late.
The best way available to judge a player's effect on offense and defense is through Corsi and Fenwick. Set plus-minus on fire and never look back.
I've always been a big Devils fan and fan of Marty, but god Marty is cooked. He really shouldn't be playing besides the second half of back to backs. I've been okay with him playing the games in Montreal and even on Sunday because of everything he has meant to the franchise but enough is enough already. For the Devils to make the playoffs they need to roll with Cory the rest of the way except for a few games here and there.
My question is if the Devils decide to do this (they better) and Marty gets all pissy and wants to play as a starter next year somewhere, would another team even give him a shot to be a starter? I know a lot of GMs do stupid things (looking at you Toronto), but I really couldn't envision that unless it was for a bottom feeder that wanted to do it as a PR move.
That's one fired-up human being.
To address the top portion of this e-mail, you are not wrong about any of it. The Devils have 28 games remaining, and Cory Schneider should start at least 22 of them. Brodeur has been ineffective except for a two-week stretch this season. The writing is on the wall.
It's pretty clear Brodeur thinks he can still play. To become an elite athlete, it takes a cocktail of ego and pride along with immense talent, and that has served him well throughout his career. Unfortunately, at 41 years old, that talent is long gone, and all that's left is the ego and pride. He's very likely coming to grips with the knowledge that this is the end, and I can't begin to imagine what that feels like.
No team in the league would consider signing a 41-year-old whose save percentage hasn't been north of .910 the past three seasons and is .899 this season. Brodeur spoke with Rich Chere of the Star-Ledger about how he'd accept a trade this season if it meant more playing time, but where would he get that playing time?
Brodeur's reflexes have diminished along with his flexibility. His ability to move laterally is sorely lacking.
Anything is possible in the NHL, as a team may sign him for his name alone. But I'd be willing to bet this is Brodeur's final NHL season.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.
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