Chicago Blackhawks Being Overexposed Through Outdoor Hockey

If it’s not too early to talk Christmas, it’s not too early to talk Winter Classic

Thanksgiving in the States is this week. Christmas Day is five weeks away. The 2017 NHL Winter Classic is six weeks away. So let’s talk outdoor hockey.

The Chicago Blackhawks will take on the St. Louis Blues in the ninth installment of the NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2, 2017. The game will take place at the home of the St. Louis Cardinals, Busch Stadium.

It will be the first Winter Classic appearance for the Blues and the Blackhawks’ third appearance in the Winter Classic, the most of the 11 teams to be featured in the contest.

It will also be the Blues’ first outdoor game in franchise history and the fifth outdoor game for the Blackhawks, also the most of the 23 NHL teams to play in a featured NHL outdoor game.

The previous four outdoor games for the Blackhawks were the 2009 Winter Classic loss to the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field, the 2014 Stadium Series win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Solider Field, the 2015 Winter Classic loss to the Washington Capitals at Nationals Park and most recently the 2016 Stadium Series loss to the Minnesota Wild at TCF Bank Stadium.

Blackhawks being used too much?

Boasting a 1-3 record in four outdoor contests isn’t much of a black eye on the Blackhawks because, hey, they’re in the featured games, right? What’s not to like? But what is the outdoor game’s appeal and ultimate goal for the NHL? National exposure in hopes to grow an audience.

The Blackhawks were an up-and-coming team in the 2008-09 season, and the historic Wrigley Field game against the well-established Red Wings made sense.

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The Stadium Series game at Solider Field made sense, putting the defending Stanley Cup champions against a very well-established Pittsburgh Penguins team in another historic Chicago venue in Solider Field.

The 2015 Winter Classic wasn’t a “classic” matchup, as the Blackhawks and Capitals don’t have a history or even a modern rivalry. But what are you going to do? Have the Capitals play the Penguins again? Sure, it was probably a thought among the NHL brass, but it would have been same old, same old.

Feb 21, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews (19) protects the puck from Minnesota Wild forward Thomas Vanek (26) in the game during a Stadium Series hockey game at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 Stadium Series game against the Wild, while it has history with the old North Stars franchise, seemed like a matchup with an excuse to put it outside. Plus, the 6-1 loss wasn’t fun either.

So it comes to the upcoming 2017 Winter Classic pitting Chicago against St. Louis, both past and present heated rivals. Nice.

The game will take place at Busch Stadium, which doesn’t have the historical feel of a Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. But the visuals and scenery around Busch Stadium will provide a very nice backdrop to the game and other festivities.

Quick! Over/under on times the Arch is shown on January 2? Let’s put it at 2.5 and I’ll take the over. 

The rivalry is great. It is a classic and good on the NHL for getting St. Louis in on the outdoor game fun, but it has started to become stale for the Blackhawks to be involved in these types of games.

As a fan of the team, it is always fun seeing them involved, don’t get me wrong. But as a fan of the NHL and an advocate for the growth of hockey in North America, and by North America I mean the States, it is important that more than just the most profitable team or the team that will grab the most regional viewers is featured.

The NHL needs to make sure that other markets get the big-time exposure to help grow the audience because the league is not big enough to do what the NFL and NBA do: feature the same half-dozen teams on the national scale, every week.

Who should take to the pond next?

I’m not an expert, nor do I play one on TV, but I believe there are fan bases and other markets that the NHL could afford to feature and make sure are getting fair exposure — and by doing so, feature more players and personalities across the league.

Casual hockey fans know Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, but how P.K. Subban and arguably the next in line to be the best player in the league for a generation, Connor McDavid, are not more well-known or recognized by casual fans is bad for the league.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for who should and would benefit from getting a featured NHL outdoor game next:

  • Nashville Predators
  • Minnesota Wild
    • Last year’s Stadium Series game against the Blackhawks was the first outdoor game for the Wild, and it seems odd that it took so long to feature the Land of 1,000 Lakes. The State of Hockey in America has the history with the North Stars and the Wild, and a Winter Classic appearance seems overdue.
  • Edmonton Oilers
    • While Edmonton has played in two previous outdoor games, the Oilers have one of the biggest attraction players in the league with McDavid, and he needs to be featured properly in the biggest NHL game of the year that isn’t a playoff game.
  • Tampa Bay Lightning
    • Perennial Cup contender, and if they can do an outdoor game in California, they can do it in Florida.
  • Dallas Stars
    • See Tampa Bay Lightning, only in Texas.
  • Columbus Blue Jackets
    • For a team that hasn’t had a ton of success as of late, the Blue Jackets are off to a hot start in 2016-17, and if they can turn this start into a playoff berth, there would be more reason to push Columbus. Plus, the idea of having a game in Ohio Stadium with 100,000+ fans would be a fun tie-in to the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, since Michigan’s “Big House” held 105,491 for the 2014 Winter Classic between the Maple Leafs and Red wings. Who could pack the stadium more?

Jersey fouls

One major point of contention to the Blackhawks being used in so many outdoor games, at least personally, is the fact that the specialty uniforms for each game have seem to run themselves dry. The Blackhakws haven’t changed their uniforms too greatly over the decades and haven’t seen a major design change since 1955, and the creativity for sweaters needs to be high.

It hasn’t been great.

First, nothing has been better since the first outdoor game design for the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field. Seriously the best.

The most recent installment of the Stadium Series sweaters for the Blackhawks were a decent attempt at an updated version of the classic 1930s away sweaters, but still felt lacking.

Now, the 2014 Stadium Series sweater, outside of the shiny and weird, chrome-like logo, was alright. I would really enjoy it if they team would bring back the alternate black uniform sets, like the late 1990s/early 2000s, for select home games.

Then there was the 2015 Winter Classic. They didn’t get what the word “classic” meant, I guess. The Washington Capitals had to literally make-up what a throwback uniform would have been for their team, and it was still better than the Blackhawks’ attempt.

Which brings it all around to the newest installment of outdoor game uniforms for the Blackhawks, which are, I think, a wrongly discarded version of the 2015 design. I bet (not really) the organization was begging the league to give them another chance at having the right uniform design after the 2015 debacle.

The creative minds behind the uniform designs for the Blackhawks deserve a break from having to come up with new specialty sweaters nearly every year. Let’s give them some time off to regroup and come back with a knockout of a design in a couple of years.

Let’s just take a break

I don’t want the Blackhawks to never play in an NHL outdoor game again; that’s not the point. The point is that if the NHL wants to really capitalize on growing the game in North America, they need to start featuring more than just their bread-and-butter organizations.

It’s great that the Blackhawks have been one of the backbones to the league in the last decade, but the league needs to feature teams like the Predators, Lightning and Blue Jackets when trying to strengthen their brand.

So let’s give the other guys a shot at some outdoor featured games. Give the Blackhawks some time away from the Stadium Series and the Winter Classic so that when they return to those stages, the heart has a chance to grow fonder, and the allure of the outdoor game will return to the fans and the organization.

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