When I woke up today I saw the headlines about the 2013 NHL Winter Classic being held in the city of Detroit. At first I was excited to see that it would be a Detroit Red Wings-Toronto Maple Leafs game in one of the biggest football stadiums in America in one of the best group of fans in hockey.
Don’t get me wrong this game will more then likely be a great game. It will definitely set NHL records for attendance in a game, as the stadium holds at least 104,000 people. We will also get to see a rivalry that dates back all the way to the 1920′s including meeting five separate times in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The facts are plain and simple despite overwhelming support in attendance and despite the facts that the Western Conference has won the Stanley Cup more times than the Eastern Conference in the last ten years, there is still no love for the Western Conference through the eyes of Gary Bettman.
Bettman is in love with Eastern Conference and the proof really is in the pudding. Since the NHL Winter Classic was made a regularity during the 2007-2008 season the NHL has only represented two Western Conference teams in the Winter Classic. While on the other hand, next year the Eastern Conference will have its seventh team represented in the Winter Classic.
NHL was arguably at its peak in the mid-to-late 90′s. In the time between 1996 and 2002 there was only one Eastern Conference Champion and that was the New Jersey Devils in 2000. It was such domination at one point that between 1996 and 2002 the Western Conference record in the Stanley Cup Finals was 26-12, three times with Eastern Conference going 4 and out.
I know most people won’t go that much into depth in the Stanley Cup facts above, but its proof that the Western Conference is just as important in the NHL as the Eastern Conference. If you look at the rest of the NHL on NBC schedule for the year (not a permanent schedule and can be changed at anytime) February 19th and March 11th are the only two dates that have a possibility of having two Western Conference teams faces off against each other, but those games can be changed at anytime, and judging by the NBCSports/Versus/NHL bias, it will more then likely be two Eastern Conference teams facing off against each other.
There are so many teams the NHL could feature from the Western Conference in the NHL Winter Classic and so many unique situations that could be addressed. Different climates, different atmospheres, and different fanbases are just a few of those situations that I personally want to see featured in the NHL Winter Classic.
The Vancouver Canucks have finished 1st in the Western Conference five times since the 2003-2004 season and have yet to receive a shot at hosting or being in the Winter Classic. The last year they finished outside of the top ten in attendance was in the 2001-2002 season where they still finished in 11th in attendance in the league. So despite a great hockey club, with a great hockey history, and a great attendance record, the Canucks somehow and some reason can’t get into an NHL Winter Classic game?
The Calgary Flames have missed the playoffs the past two seasons, but have still managed to have top attendance in the league. They are known for their 2003-2004 Stanley Cup run where jersey sells were so high CCM stopped making other jerseys at the time just to keep up with Flames jersey sales. They have die hard fans, great attendance, and once again a rich hockey history. How come they can’t get featured by the NHL?
The San Jose Sharks have won the Pacific Division six times since 2001-2002 and only missed the playoffs one time in the last thirteen seasons which is remarkable. They have also had a 99.5% sell out rate or higher in the last seven seasons. Not to mention that San Jose, California is the 10th most popular city in America, they would have a large amount of people in the San Jose area to market the NHL product.
The Los Angeles Kings have had a nice rejuvenation period the past three seasons after having a dismal record in the early 2000′s. Something like the NHL Winter Classic is something that could bring star power into Los Angeles. We have seen many actors, singers, rappers, and legends in attendance at Lakers games and Raiders games in the past.
When it comes to cities like Los Angeles and New York, there is always a chance at seeing somebody famous there. Los Angeles is a very marketable city. Don’t believe it ask the WWE who markets Los Angeles and New York markets all the time. With a team like Los Angeles it almost is an open opportunity for the NHL to take a risk on a team with good attendance and a good fan base and take a risk at giving the Kings a chance on the NHL’s grandest stage and give the NHL a chance at building a star on the Kings.
Something else that is a unique factor when you think about the NHL market is the stadium choices for the NHL Winter Classic if you were to put the Classic game in Los Angeles. You have so many stadium choices to choose from in Los Angeles. You could choose the Los Angeles Memorial Stadium which hosts the USC Trojans football team (already holds 93,000 people), or you could choose the new NFL stadium that they are building in Los Angeles, which could inadvertently push buttons with the NFL and give fans in Los Angeles something to get excited about while they still do not have an NFL team.
The Anaheim Ducks are in the same position as the Kings as well. Great market chance for the NHL to take a chance on a team that has good attendance, a good fan base. The only problem is their record which could hold the Ducks out of contention for a NHL Winter Classic game.
I mean I think this article shows plain and simple that there is plenty of marketable chances for Bettman and the NHL to take a chance on teams in the Winter Classic. I just think it is absolutely preposterous how the Western Conference has not been represented on the western half of the Mississippi River yet.
I know people are gonna make arguments about how the 2003 and 2011 Heritage Classic both featured Western Conference teams, but lets be completely honest right now, those games were not marketed heavily by the NHL. A game that was first played in 2003 on the western side of Canada, is now the featured game every season in the eastern coast of the United States.
I am going to make a written proposition to Bettman and the NHL right now. I am going to bread and butter this for anybody involved in the NHL to understand. Instead of continuously marketing the same teams over and over and over and over again take a chance on good hockey teams rather then staying at home with the same teams who have had their chance to shine. I understand the league is all about making money, but instead lets try and bring back the “H” in NHL rather then making it the $NHL$.
You can follow Sterling Eby on Twitter @TheSterlo