Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NHL [Print without images]

Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Is Winter Classic too much fun?

By Scott Burnside
ESPN.com

NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park
Last year's meeting between the Rangers and Flyers drew 46,967 to Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park.

OK, so we're not quite ready to resume just yet. Let's enjoy the minute or two that passes for an NHL offseason before rushing back into the fray.

Still, it's never too early to imagine what might come to pass in the coming season. And goodness knows the Olympic orientation camps in late August, as well as rookie and training camps shortly thereafter, will be upon us all too soon.

With that in mind, we thought we would spend the week looking ahead to the 2013-14 season.

TODAY: OUTDOOR MANIA

When we first reported this past spring that the NHL was going to go hog-wild with outdoor games this coming season, there was a lot of harrumphing and head-shaking, mostly from the media and often from folks who've never bothered to show up at one of the league's outdoor events.

The games have been staples on the NHL calendar since the first Winter Classic, on Jan. 1, 2008, in Buffalo. We've been to all of the Winter Classics and have seen the evolution of the event from an NHL game plunked down in a giant outdoor venue to something more encompassing and reflective of the broad appeal of hockey at its grassroots level.

The Winter Classic will return on Jan. 1, 2014 (the lockout wiped out the 2013 game), when the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings meet at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, and it will be complemented by events at Comerica Park in downtown Detroit.

Beyond that, the league has an ambitious plan to stage five other outdoor games, including two at Yankee Stadium during Super Bowl week in late January (involving all three New York-area teams), and a game at Dodger Stadium between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 25.

Looking to kick off the post-Olympic break with a bang, the NHL will return to Chicago on March 1, when the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks will play the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field. The Heritage Classic, the Canadian version of the outdoor series, will be the next day as the Vancouver Canucks host the Ottawa Senators.

Will it be outdoor overkill?

Each game represents something unique in its marketplace, so if there is a lessening of the oomph factor nationally, the NHL is banking on more than making up for it with the interest in places such as New York, Chicago and the Los Angeles area. Of course, every game also represents a battle between a pro sports league and Mother Nature, and now that battle will be waged times six -- heightening the likelihood of some sort of natural impediment to a game coming off as planned. But that's part of the drama, no?