The 2015 Winter Classic between the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals has not even been played yet and there are reports coming out that the NHL will be bringing back the 2016 version of the Winter Classic to Boston Massachusetts.
During an episode of Insider Trading TSN’s Bob McKenzie said, “Right now the NHL’s primary focus is trying to get a deal done with Boston and the Boston Bruins to have next year’s Winter Classic in Boston. I would think that by mid-January to mid-February that it could be finalized if all goes well. That’s the primary focus right now, but the deal not done just yet.”
If that is truly going to be the case, there is one team and one team only that would make the game perfect is the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens and Bruins are two Original Six franchises that are bitter rivals. They would make the Winter Classic in Boston very special especially for both franchises.
The NHL took a gamble during last year’s Winter Classic as the Toronto Maple Leafs became the first Canadian team to participate in the Winter Classic, which has been dominated by American teams. The Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs played a close game inside the Big House, in the snow with a massive crowd. It was one of the most viewed Winter Classic games to date.
This should show that Original Six hockey sells. If the Canadiens and Bruins played on January 1, 2016 there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that game would be the highest rated Winter Classic in history. The Canadiens and Bruins have such a bitter rivalry that fans would love to watch. Their seven game playoff series in 2014 was very entertaining to watch. Imagine what these teams would do if the game was taken outside to the elements.
The big question now is where the game would be within Boston. While it seems unlikely the NHL would go back to Fenway Park, site of the 2010 Winter Classic between the Philadelphia Flyers and Bruins, for a second time, especially with bigger stadiums out there, nothing says Boston like Fenway Park.
An historic venue would be the perfect backdrop for two rivals like the Canadiens and Bruins, if indeed the Canadiens were the opponent. Another option could be Gillette Stadium, home of the NFL’s New England Patriots, in Foxborough, Mass, which holds nearly 70,000 seats. The big question would be the NFL schedule and if the Patriots had a home game prior to January 1.
The NHL last used an NFL stadium for the Winter Classic in 2011 when the Pittsburgh Steelers made Heinz Field available thanks in large to an agreeable ownerships and a favorable schedule that saw the Steelers play a home game on a Thursday night and then go on the road the following week, allowing the NHL to assemble the rink on the field.
Something similar could happen next year, if Gillette Stadium is chosen as the venue.
The Patriots are believed to be enthusiastic about working with the NHL and Bruins. If Gillette Stadium was the site of the Winter Classic, the NHL could use Fenway Park as a secondary rink to host other events similar to what they did last year where events were split between downtown Detroit and Ann Arbor. Fenway Park has hosted numerous outdoor games since the Bruins had the Winter Classic there in 2010.
The NHL appears content with keeping the Winter Classic east of the Mississippi River and within its tradition powerful media markets. The Classic hasn’t gone further west than Chicago since its inception in 2008. The Stadium Series games have been wildly successful so far and those are the better options for the League’s Western markets, which do not command as big of a TV audience.
Boston is the safest play at this stage in the game, because of the popularity of the Bruins, but will also be a good test for the NHL to see if the Winter Classic formula is getting stale. If the Canadiens are the opponent, the game will not be stale and people will want to watch and go to the game. However if a team that has played in the game already is chosen, it has the potential to be just another game as fans will grow tired of the same team being featured in the Winter Classic.
The only positive coming out of McKenzie’s report for Western Conference markets is that the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche will host Stadium Series games in 2016, while the Winnipeg Jets will host the Heritage Classic in Canada.
Hopefully the NHL does the right thing by all and gives the fans what they want and they would Montreal and Boston outdoors.