MONTREAL – There could be as many as three NHL games played outside of traditional venues next season.
The league’s competition committee discussed several different scenarios during a wide-ranging meeting on Thursday and left open the possibility for games to be played outdoors in Boston and Calgary, with another being held under the roof at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.
“We are looking at a couple potential additional special events beyond the NBC Winter Classic game,” said NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly. “(It’s something) that we all collectively think will be very good for the game. We think that they won’t dilute the product that we’ve created.”
There are a number of logistical issues still to be worked out.
The Habs are hoping to host their game in November or December to coincide with the end of their centennial celebrations while the Boston Bruins will play theirs at Fenway Park in the traditional Winter Classic spot on New Year’s Day.
Even though there has been some discussion that a game at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium might be played as a New Year’s doubleheader, there’s also the possibility it will be held at another time – perhaps to coincide with CBC’s annual Hockey Day in Canada.
A decision is looming.
“It does have to be decided rather quickly because our schedule is being released in two weeks,” said Colin Campbell, the NHL’s director of hockey operations. “Gary (Bettman) and the people arranging this are just trying to put it all together.”
The competition committee also discussed several other issues but didn’t vote on any specific rule changes.
One recommendation that didn’t get through was the suggestion coming out of the GM Meetings in March that a misconduct penalty start being handed out to players who fight directly after a faceoff. It failed to gain momentum and has been dropped for the time being.
“It’s dead as far as implementing it,” said Campbell. “The managers may want to talk about it and discuss it again in September. If we do want to change it or implement a rule then we have to go back through the competition committee.”
If that happens, it doesn’t sound like they’ll have much luck.
“You don’t tell these guys when and how and where they can engage,” said NHLPA executive Glenn Healy. “They do it, they both know they’re going to do it.”
Among the other issues discussed was the players’ desire to see a penalty for hits to the head and the ongoing debate over regulating goalie equipment. Those topics will continue to be looked at moving forward.
Overall, the competition committee didn’t feel overly compelled to shake things up.
“The biggest conclusion is that we think the game’s in real great shape and we’re going in the right direction,” said Ottawa Senators forward Jason Spezza. “We talked about all the issues but we’re not going to make any radical changes. There may be a few tweaks along the way.”
The idea of playing a regular season game outdoors was once considered radical, but the NHL has successfully pulled off three of them. It is simply looking to build on that success now.
That could end up seeing Montreal back in the spotlight next fall with a game at the Big O.
“It’s something that’s seriously being looked at,” said Kelly. “There’s scheduling implications to it, there’s which teams might be involved in that. If we’re going to do something like that, we want to do something that’s good for the fans – that’s reasonably priced, that’s kind of an appropriate end to the Montreal centennial celebration.”