So, the Winter Classic, huh?
In these parts, thems some dirty words. You see, to a lot of Minnesotan fans, the Winter Classic is a bastion of East Coast Bias. And these aren’t the same people that I roll my eyes at in a snobby fashion, there are a lot of people that I respect who feel slighted at the fact that Minnesota hasn’t yet been selected for participation in the Winter Classic, as the teams in Northeastern America continue to be the exclusive beneficiaries of this event.
Next year, it seems that it’s all but certain that the 2013 Winter Classic will be held in Detroit. And in that time, there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth. And I will have one question for Wild fans.
What did you expect?
It’s the NHL’s biggest regular season event, and it’s also a marketing event selling the game to casual American hockey fans. Of course they would want to showcase the biggest stars, biggest markets, and the most recognizable, historic teams. I love Mikko Koivu. In a market like New York, Montreal, Toronto, Chicago, Detroit, etc. he’s a star. It’s a shame he isn’t that level of star. But he’s not considered that way. And as for the Minnesota Wild, they’re a team with little history and little national following, and they’re not one of the league’s marquee teams now.
Look at the Winter Classics of past, and you’ll see what I mean.
2008: Pittsburgh Penguins at Buffalo Sabres
Pittsburgh featured Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and one of the most talented young teams in hockey, and one with a good history (having once had a Francis-Lemieux-Jagr line). Buffalo (Hark! A small market!) possessed Ryan Miller, one of the best goalies in the league at the time and arguably the most marketable American star.
2009: Detroit Red Wings at Chicago Blackhawks
Detroit is a perennial Cup contender (Who won the 07-08 Cup) with players like Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Lidstrom. Chicago featured one of the league’s best up-and-coming teams with the likes of Toews, Kane (an American), Keith, and the like. Two large markets. Two Original 6 teams. The opportunity to play a game at Wrigley.
2010: Philadelphia Flyers at Boston Bruins
The eventual Eastern Conference Champion had a ton of talent on their side (Richards, Carter, Pronger) and are a historic franchise in their own right (The Broad Street Bullies of the 70’s). Boston’s an Original 6 team who has had arguable the best player in NHL history on their team (Bobby Orr). Throw in the big markets and Fenway factor.
2011: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins
The two marquee superstars in the NHL in Crosby and Ovechkin. Throw in the fact that both teams were exciting, offensive juggernauts who had expectations to get deep into the playoffs.
2012: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers
New York is an Original 6 team in North America’s largest market. Philadelphia was arguably the most compelling team in the offseason, having traded off both of their superstar centers.
I don’t know if you can argue that the Wild has had a team with the marketability, star power, or history to compete with the teams selected thus far. Yes, Minnesota is a state that values and treasures hockey at all levels, and has a very passionate, knowledgeable fan base. This can’t be disputed. However, the dedicated Minnesota fan base isn’t enough to appeal to casual fans on a nationwide basis. As unfair as it is, the Wild continue to be written off as a boring, generic team, despite the fact that Chuck Fletcher is remaking the team into something that decidedly isn’t boring.
I think that in two or three years, the Wild will host a Winter Classic. Why? Because then they should have an up-and-coming team to showcase, one that can appeal to an audience outside of the Minnesota market. At that time, they should have a team worthy of being celebrated on the biggest regular season stage the NHL can offer. But it’s not gonna happen a moment before they have that team.
And really, I think that’s the right call.
I don’t want to seem as if I don’t care about the feelings of the Wild fanbase, because that’s not true. I definitely want the Wild to host a Winter Classic- I think that would be the coolest thing. I understand the passion that the fanbase shows for wanting a Winter Classic in Minnesota, it would be a great thing for the Minnesota Wild, and a landmark event for building some history for the franchise.
What I don’t get, however, is the bitterness over not having yet hosted one. It sucks to admit, but the league has done what they’re supposed to do- select teams in cold-weather markets that they can market to the casual fan. It just happens that the Wild haven’t yet been one of those teams.
Quoth noted philosopher Ilya Bryzgalov:
Why you heff to be mad, Wild fans?