Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The NHL Needs More "Winter Classics" ... in Canada

The Winter Classic is the crown jewel of the NHL's regular season. The Classic, as they'll tell you, puts the game back to its roots -- outdoors. It draws quite a crowd (over 60,000 attended the Capts-Pens game in Pittsburgh on Saturday) and routinely is one of the biggest TV viewing matches the NHL has.

The NHL loves it. They tell you that that's how hockey was played! Outdoors in the cold. In the elements. Where people love it.

We will never see a Winter Classic in Anaheim. Or Dallas. Or Tampa Bay. Or Phoenix. Those cities aren't majestic enough to house such a game. Not even cities like Atlanta, Raleigh or Nashville will get a shot. Of course, the NHL knows that not only would it lose its luster, but people may not show up. At least not like they'd do in Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Boston or New York.

Yet, there are NHL franchises in Anaheim, Dallas, Tampa, Phoenix, Nashville, Atlanta and Raleigh. In several of those cities, no one would really care if (a) their team played in a Winter Classic or (b) even played in their city at all.

That's not totally fair. There are some northern teams struggling for fans. The Islanders are the worst attended team in the NHL despite residing in the league's most populous market. The Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils and Colorado Avalanche are also in the bottom 7 in attendance.

Still, the southern towns suffer. Phoenix (29th of 30 teams), Atlanta (28th), Anaheim (25th), Dallas (23rd), Carolina (22nd), Florida (21st), Nashville (20th) and Tampa Bay (19th) are all in the bottom third in attendance. The only "southern" city in the top half of the NHL in attendance? The Los Angeles Kings at 13th.

Why do we keep up with this charade? Why? Why, in a league of 30 teams, are only SIX Canadian franchises in operation? SIX!

The Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers all have their home games at 100% capacity ... if not better (the Leafs are 102.6% capacity). The only Canadian team to not hit that mark is the relatively newer Ottawa Senators ... who still fill their arena at a 98% clip.

Meanwhile, the Coyotes are at 61%. The Thrashers are at 68%. The only "southern" cities that fill to capacity by at least 90% are the Kings (97%) and Predators (93.4%).

So why not move these teams back? Get the Coyotes out of freakin' Phoenix and move them back to Winnipeg? Bring back the Winnipeg Jets! Bring back the Winnipeg Jets! Why not move the Panthers or Lightning to Quebec and give us back our Nordiques!

I know you are saying that Winnipeg and Quebec are smaller markets. But they are rabid markets. Those citizens will flock to games.

I know you are also saying, "hey, they had their chance and couldn't hang." Fair, but remember that when the Jets left Winnipeg for Phoenix and the Nordiques left Quebec for Colorado there was no salary cap like there is today and the Canadian dollar was in shambles. Those teams, like the ones in Edmonton and Calgary, can survive in this NHL.

Remember that Minnesota lost their North Stars to Dallas yet were able to get the expansion Wild a few years later.

Heck, move the Atlanta Thrashers to Toronto! That city can house two NHL teams. I mean, if New York can do it and the Los Angeles-Anaheim area can do it ... why couldn't hockey crazed Toronto?

That would make the NHL tick again! Invest back into Canada! No new teams, just relocate the existing ones.

And while you're at it ... move the Carolina Hurricanes back to Hartford and bring back our Whalers!

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