Canada has been shut out of the NHL’s wildly popular outdoor games since the first Heritage Classic in Edmonton in 2003, but that almost certainly won’t be the case next year, according to multiple sources.
In addition to the Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals on New Year’s Day, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, sources say the league is close to finalizing plans for a second outdoor game hosted by the Calgary Flames at McMahon Stadium. It’s believed the Edmonton Oilers will be the opponent, but there is also a strong push being made to have the Toronto Maple Leafs as the visiting team. The date of the Calgary game is not known, but it definitely will not conflict with the Winter Classic. There has been talk the game could be played on Hockey Day in Canada next February.
All of which brings us to a crucial question: Is the NHL running the risk of killing the golden goose by force-feeding fans too many outdoor classics? Perhaps, but you have to understand that in order for there to be an outdoor game in Canada, there has to be two games.
That’s because, according to industry experts, NBC has absolutely no appetite for including a Canadian team in the Jan. 1 Winter Classic, a game that has become a ratings bonanza and has been a driving force behind making the NHL’s television property in the United States something worth pursuing. So if Canada wants to be in on the party, the league has to hold another game outdoors.
And this, insiders say, has been something of a topic of debate in the NHL’s headquarters. There are apparently those in the NHL’s hierarchy who want to increase the number of outdoor games significantly, but NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, to his credit, realizes the brand is popular in large part because of its novelty and doesn’t want to over-saturate fans with too much of a good thing.
So this is seen as a workable compromise. On one hand, the NHL capitalizes on the popularity of the outdoor game with NBC, but also gives something to fans who deserve to enjoy an outdoor game the most.
There is no word on whether the Outdoor and Heritage Classics will be a permanent fixture, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea. The league could hold the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day and the Heritage Classic on Hockey Day in Canada each year, rotating it among the NHL’s six Canadian cities, seven once you include Winnipeg if and when the Phoenix Coyotes move there.
HOW LONG FOR THE SUTTERS?
Still with the Flames, if they do indeed end up hosting a Heritage Classic, will Darryl Sutter be the GM by then and will Brent Sutter still be behind the Flames bench?
Not sure, but despite the fact almost everyone is calling for their heads, there’s a chance neither one of the Sutters is going anywhere, at least not in the short term.
Here’s why. There are reports out of Calgary that the Flames have agreed to terms on a multi-year deal with defenseman Ian White, the defenseman Darryl Sutter acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Dion Phaneuf trade. So, if that’s the case, why would ownership allow Darryl Sutter to continue to negotiate long-term deals with players such as White and Matt Stajan if he weren’t going to be the one running the hockey department next season? If the owners were intent on making a change, wouldn’t it be better to get rid of their GM now so as not to saddle the new GM with a bunch of long-term contracts he might not want?
Not that either Sutter doesn’t deserve to be turfed, particularly Darryl at this stage. The fact is Darryl Sutter was handed a roster that would ultimately come within one win of winning the Stanley Cup when he took over in 2003. Since then, he has moved pieces around at a dizzying rate to the point where the Flames will need nothing short of a miracle to make the playoffs this season.
Matthew Lombardi is a 50-point scorer on a Phoenix Coyotes team that might finish as high as third overall in the NHL this season. Last year, Sutter dealt him and a first round pick in this year’s draft to the Coyotes for Olli Jokinen. He practically gave Chris Clark away for nothing to the Washington Capitals and traded Toni Lydman to the Buffalo Sabres for a third round pick. Chris Drury and Steve Begin in 2003 for Rhett Warrener and Steve Reinprecht? Are you kidding me?
And even though suggesting Phaneuf has what it takes to lead the revival of the Toronto Maple Leafs is a stretch, it’s hard to believe Darryl Sutter could not have received more in return for him.
Not only that, but both Darryl and Brent have made Calgary a miserable place to play. The Flames dressing room is known as the ‘No Fun Zone’ and the players are growing tired of the Sutters’ answer for everything being they have to work harder.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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