clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The NHL’s reliance on the Chicago Blackhawks playing outdoor games is getting old

New, comments

Money and ratings are driving the NHL’s decision, but it’s making these marquee games feel stale.

2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

There are only three constants in life. Death, taxes, and the Chicago Blackhawks playing outdoors for the NHL.

On Tuesday, a report from Barstool Sports Chicago came down the wire saying that the NHL will announce that the 2019 Winter Classic will take place in Notre Dame Stadium against the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins. The news can still change, since the NHL isn’t slated to announce something until the end of the month, so the information should always be taken with caution.

Still, if the news is legitimate, the Blackhawks will get their league-leading sixth outdoor game since the NHL started the Winter Classic tradition back in 2008. The league has since added more outdoor games to the schedule each year, but this will be the Blackhawks’ fourth Winter Classic experience alongside two Stadium Series visits.

It has, to put it lightly, become a running joke between hockey fans that the Blackhawks play in every outdoor game the NHL has. Accounting for the 2019 report, the Blackhawks will soon go to an outdoor game five times in six years. Between 2014 and 2017, the Blackhawks played in an outdoor game for four years straight.

Next season, however, will be the first year without a Blackhawks outdoor game since 2013, as the Winter Classic and both Stadium Series games will feature different teams, including the New York Rangers’ first since 2014.

While the year off is seemingly enough time for the NHL, it’s time to put my foot down on this issue. We have seen enough of the Blackhawks in outdoor games, let alone the Winter Classic itself.

Look, I get why the NHL does this almost every year. Chicago is a market ratings darling, though not as much as Buffalo, and the Blackhawks feature recognizable stars in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith. The Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups since 2010 and are likely one of the first teams to be named by the general sports-watching populace.

Yet, there’s a reason the NHL fanbase at large has grown tired of the Blackhawks in outdoor games. There are 30 other teams in the league besides Chicago, but only a handful get picked for the honor of playing in an outdoor game. The NHL, however, wants that old-time feel of playing pond hockey on a cold winter’s day so of course almost half of the league is left out of the festivities each year.

2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic - Toronto Maple Leafs v Detroit Red Wings

It shouldn’t have to be that way, however. Outdoor hockey games now feel stale and contrived instead of being marvels like they once were when the Winter Classic started in 2008. Whether it be the frequency of the games, which now happen a few times a season, or that the same teams make up the majority of the events, it’s no secret the enthusiasm for the outdoor games are down.

As such, it’s a shame the NHL is falling back on old standards. Notre Dame may be a new venue, and an incredible one at that, but the league should be chasing ways to bring that spark of wonder back into the event. One could argue that it’s the venue, and not the team, that makes the outdoor games great. However, when the Blackhawks are there at every turn, it’s becoming more and more obvious to even the most casual of fans that their inclusion is nothing more than a cash grab.

So, I say no more outdoor games featuring the Blackhawks for a few more years. Let other teams, like the Nashville Predators or the Tampa Bay Lightning, take the lead. Get rid of the notion that outdoor games have to be played in a picture-perfect snow globe atmosphere. You can still have those, like the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers matchup in Beaver Stadium that hockey fans have been clamoring about since the event started 10 years ago, but it’s time to spread the wealth.

Instead, think outside of the box. How have the Blue Jackets not played at Ohio State yet? No matter how bad the ratings might tank, get the Golden Knights to play the Coyotes in Chase Field in the dead of winter. Have the Predators and the Blues play at neutral site Churchill Downs where Pierre McGuire reports from the sidelines in the gaudiest hat to keep with the theme.

Yes, outdoor hockey in one of the most historic sports venues in the world. And the NHL doesn’t need the Blackhawks to do it. All it takes is a bit of faith that the sports world will accompany the league as they step out of their comfort zone. Considering the reaction every time the Blackhawks get invited to another outdoor game, it might be time to do so.