The NHL brain-trust has created a monster success with the Winter Classic tradition.  It’s a genius way of merging the magic and commonality of pond hockey, with the greatest pure talent in the world.  Unfortunately a lot of fans (myself included) are torn about it’s future and are concerned about it losing it’s allure.  Where does it go from here?

The NHL needs to be cautious not to over-saturate this game and the excitement level it creates.  The emergence of the Stadium Series is the NHL’s attempt to scale, but done much too haphazardly.  The NHL allowing multiple outdoor games to happen, outside of the brand of the “Winter Classic” seems disjointed and unorganized.  Yes, they’ve sold-out stadiums and crushed ratings, but no one really understands the positioning of the two-brands co-existing in the same format and appearance.

Here are my suggestions for the league.  Someone email Gary B.

The Winter Series

The NHL’s version of “inter-league play”.  A window of time in the first-half of the season (before the all-star break) where there are a series of outdoor games in each conference.  Here’s how it would play out.

Start the Winter Series with the “Winter Classic”
This should be the biggest, most badass version of all the outdoor games.  Rock concerts, former players, hall-of-famers, and most importantly the best matchup.  You also need to contract HBO to keep pumping out 24/7′s to support the build up.

Follow up with subsequent Winter Series matchups
Here’s where it gets a bit tricky.  What I envision at first is a home-and-home type pairing where rivalry teams split years of hosting.  So one year, it’s Bruins / Canadians at Fenway, and the next year it’s at whatever place in Montreal that is suitable for a big-stage outdoor game.

Depending on the success and the development of the new conferences, these rivalry games (above) should be swapped out for top tier teams playing each other, from each division (real points on the line) and have it be a standings based match-up (1 vs 2 / 3 vs 4).  Once the league feels comfortable with the cadence and burden of producing these games each year, then we lock it in as a staple of the regular-season.

So this approach satisfies both me the average hockey fan, and the owners of each team.   It doesn’t come off like “oh shit, people really like this lets just do as many of these as possible!!!”…. No. It’s a credible, and pertinent part of the hockey season, that plays a specific role to inject life into the NHL’s marathon of a schedule.  Secondly, it allows each team and fanbase to get excited for the opportunity to watch their stars play a game outdoors every year.  Which means that the owners can stealthily continue to make a cash grab with this money-making machine, without it coming off so absurdly transparent that we’re trying to carbon copy the Winter Classic.  Merchandise, concessions and all other consumables can be customized every year, per team, and now you have an additional product line to sell.

That’s my take on the future of this thing.  I don’t want it to sputter out and become obsolete.  Let’s tighten it up and bring it into the fold as a distinct feature of the NHL offering, not just a one-time event that was replicated to the point of exhaustion.