Can you picture this?
It's 25 degrees outside on an early January night and the Detroit Red Wings are taking to the ice against the Colorado Avalanche under the silhouette of the Rocky Mountains. More than 76,000 fans are packed inside Sports Authority Field in Denver, including -- brace yourselves -- TIM TEBOW.
One of the greatest rivalries in sports history -- not just the NHL -- is revived for one day at least. And in case the current Avs and Wings wouldn't be enough of an attraction, there is the alumni game to consider. Are you saying you wouldn't tune in to see Claude Lemieux and Darren McCarty face off one more time? Or Patrick Roy against Mike Vernon? Adam Foote against Brendan Shanahan? Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg against Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov?
You would. You definitely would. And you would tune in for a current Avs-Wings Winter Classic, too, because it would be something new, something different.
That's the point of this column: this is the last year the Winter Classic can be played in Eastern locales for a while. If a while means only one year, OK. But next year's Classic cannot be held in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia or Boston, and it cannot involve just the Penguins, Flyers, Bruins and a few other Eastern teams. Otherwise, it's going to get stale.
WINTER CLASSIC GALLERIES:2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008
It's time for young NHL men to go West starting next year, and I'm not talking about Chicago, where the Winter Classic game with Detroit was held at Wrigley Field in 2009. Denver, St. Paul, St. Louis and, dare I say it, a city in California should be considered for a coming Classic.
If you don't think ice could stay solid around the San Jose/San Francisco area, you haven't been there at night too often in winter time. It is downright cold there when the sun goes down. Heck, it can be that way all year round. Whoever (supposedly it was Mark Twain) said, "the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco" had it right.
The larger point is: the NHL has become too Eastern-centric when it comes to televised games. There is a whole other side of the country, and there are TV sets there, too.
I think I speak for many in saying I'm getting a little tired of seeing the Flyers and Penguins and Bruins and Rangers all the time.
Not just in Winter Classic games, but overall.
Yeah, I know I sound a bit like those whiny people who say there is an Eastern bias in the NHL, but come on -- look at the games we see every week. Last season, there was one game of the week on NBC that featured two Western teams -- Chicago and Detroit -- and we all know Detroit is in an Eastern time zone.
This year, there is another Chicago-Detroit NBC matchup (Jan. 14) and a couple others against Eastern competition that look more like they'll be regionally shown.
I want to see some other teams play hockey. There are 30 of them in the league. Yes, I know the arguments against my line of thinking have strong points: namely, Western teams have usually fared poorly in national ratings. I counter with "Of course they do, because they play later at night when much of the country is asleep." But putting a Winter Classic in Denver or St. Paul or San Jose is a one-shot deal that could get an Eastern-friendly time slot (6 p.m. Mountain is 8 p.m. Eastern) and great ratings, I believe.
If you need to send an Eastern team to play out West, fine, send the Capitals to the Sharks at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco. Bring Joe Montana out to drop the first puck, give Willie Mays a seat, and it's Game On.
They once played a game between the LA Kings and the Rangers outside at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. It was a smash success. That was LAS VEGAS where, you know, it's been known to be a little bit hot most of the year.
So far, Gary Bettman has given a little lip service to possible new Western locales for the Classic, but his body language has seemed to say "Are you crazy? Not a chance."
If not, then playing in the East continually is going to slowly bleed the uniqueness out of the event.
We're not asking for much out West here. Just a chance to show the world that St. Paul or Denver or -- here's an idea, play a Western team against an Eastern team in, say, the Olympic Stadium in Salt Lake City. Or how about this for crazy: Bruins vs. Canucks in Red Square, Moscow? It doesn't always have to be a host city with an NHL team does it?
Just do something to show the world that the NHL truly is a world game again, and not just composed of a few teams from the New York-New Jersey-Philly-Boston grid.
And don't forget about that incentive for Denver: