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Blittner’s Blue Line: Winter Classic Musings

It’s a New Year, yes it is!

2024 still feels new – as of the writing of this column – and it’s already kicked off with a bang. The PWHL got off to a hot start as the New York franchise blanked the Toronto team 4-0 in The League’s first ever game. The World Junior Championship is in full swing, with Team USA currently undefeated!

Oh, and let’s not forget, The NHL’s annual Winter Classic was a massive success at T-Mobile Park as the Kraken – playing in their first-ever outdoor game – beat the Golden Knights, 3-0. And to top it off, Seattle recorded the first-ever shutout in the history of the event. 

As you can see, there’s already been a lot to unpack. But the point of this column isn’t to recap results. No, it’s to get people thinking. With that in mind, I’d like to pose a question…

Is there a way to spice up The Winter Classic?

Answer…maybe. Let’s take a look at a couple of potential ideas.


Each year, when the following season’s Winter Classic matchup gets announced, the pairing can come off feeling a bit…random. Sure, there have been some rivalry games, but, for the most part, the pairings are more geography-based than anything else. 

(As a side note, The NHL does want each of its 32 teams to appear at least once in the annual extravaganza.)

However, what if there was a way to add some more “heat” to the game? What if, The Winter Classic was always a rematch of the previous season’s Stanley Cup Final? That would surely add some gravitas to the annual New Year’s Day spectacle. 

Yes, there are some logistical barriers to this idea. 

One, since the Stanley Cup Final often runs until the second week of June, it doesn’t leave The NHL a ton of time to promote the following January’s game. Two, the site of the game needs to be determined well before The Cup Final begins. Three, what happens if the site doesn’t make geographical sense for the two Cup finalists? For example, what if the Bruins and Kings were in The Final but The League was looking to hold The Winter Classic in, say, Michigan? Would the fan bases for both teams reliably travel to such a site? 

These are all questions that would need answering before this idea could gain traction. 


Every year 32 NHL teams take the ice at the start of the season with one goal in mind – to win The Stanley Cup. It’s, without a doubt, the most sought-after trophy in all of professional sports. But, what if The Cup champs ALSO got to host The Winter Classic?

Before you start complaining, hear me out.

Let’s say the Golden Knights and the Islanders play each other in The Stanley Cup Final in June 2024. For argument’s sake, let’s say the Islanders win. Under this idea, the Islanders would then host The Winter Classic in January 2025. AND to up the ante, The Isles can choose whichever team they want to be their opponents. 

Think about the drama, the Made-For-TV moment when The Isles announce who they’ve chosen. Do they pick a team they think will be easy to defeat? Do they pick a team from out of their conference or division? Do they choose any old team in their division? OR, do they choose a team they consider to be a heated rival? 

Can you imagine the viral reactions on social media and across all of The NHL’s platforms if the Islanders were to call out the Rangers as their Winter Classic opponent? The heat for the game would be off the charts. The NHL’s marketing department would kick into overdrive hyping up the game. 

Sure, many of the same barriers from our previous idea would still hold true here, but I’m sure The NHL would be able to figure things out. (Okay, maybe I’m not so sure, but it’s nice to think positively once in a while.)


This idea probably won’t be too popular with 26 of The NHL’s fan bases, but let’s give it a fair shake. 

A key component of The Winter Classic is to bring hockey back to its roots. Its outdoor roots. Playing outdoors is a big selling point for the game, The League, and the players. With that in mind, what if the Winter Classic doubled as a celebration of sorts for The League’s history and only featured The Original Six teams? 

Sure, after a few years, the matchups would get repetitive, but it would also spotlight the franchises who helped build The NHL into what it is today. Without The Original Six, where would The NHL currently be? 

There are plenty of untapped venues The Winter Classic could be played in, even if the field is limited to only six teams. Fans have witnessed hundreds, upon hundreds of encounters between these six franchises and yet they still gear themselves up whenever an Original Six matchup pops up on their team’s calendar. 

This idea allows the game to truly return to its roots. But the limited field of teams does present a problem. 


This is where things start getting wacky.

A common complaint with The Winter Classic is that, outside of the fans of the two teams playing in it, there’s not much reason for the fan bases of the other 30 franchises to tune in. 

Meanwhile, a common complaint with The All-Star Game is that the players don’t take the game seriously and therefore it doesn’t resemble a “true” hockey game. 

So, what if, instead of having a yearly All-Star break, two teams of All-Stars, let’s just say East vs. West, were selected and they played in The Winter Classic? Every team in The NHL would have at least one player representative, so that entices fans from every team to tune in. Plus, with the importance of The Winter Classic, perhaps the players will take the contest seriously and play a “true” game of hockey.

Sure, there are some problems with this idea, but it’s certainly an intriguing one. 


What do you all think? Would one of these four ideas help turn The Winter Classic into an even bigger spectacle? Or, do you prefer to keep the game the way it is? There’s no wrong answer. 

That being said, it’s nice to start the new year off with a thought-provoking question.

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