TAMPA — The National Hockey League is celebrating a banner weekend — an historic one, actually.
And it’s happening on both coasts — Los Angeles and New York.
The Stadium Series kicked off late Saturday at Dodger Stadium between Southern California rivals Anaheim and Los Angeles. With a game-time temperature in the 60s, outdoor hockey took place in one of the more unlikely locales in one of the most iconic stadiums in North America.
This afternoon, the NHL will pull off its version of a doubleheader when the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils drop the puck at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
But the fun doesn’t stop there.
The Stadium Series, complete with a high-profile national sponsor lending its name, continues on Wednesday night back at Yankee Stadium when the Rangers return to the outdoor ice to face off against the New York Islanders.
But wait, there’s more.
When the league returns from the Olympic break at the end of next month, it will be a football-esque weekend as the Stadium Series concludes with another pair of outdoor games. On March 1, the Chicago Blackhawks will host the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field, followed the next day with the Heritage Classic between Ottawa and host Vancouver at B.C. Place, home of the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League.
Including the hugely successful Winter Classic, held on New Year’s Day this season at Michigan Stadium in front of more than 100,000 fans, that brings the total to six outdoor games this season.
It’s not exactly a revelation, but that’s probably about five outdoor games too many in one season.
The Winter Classic is a cash cow for the league, and its staying power has been proven since the first one in Buffalo in 2008. It’s a ratings hit on television and the specially licensed merchandise has flown off the shelves.
But, as Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman mentioned during the Winter Classic, you have to wonder if the league is tapping too much into the golden goose.
In one sense, I get it. There is no All-Star game this season and the league is shutting down for two-plus weeks at a point in the schedule between the Super Bowl and the start of spring training, so holding a series of outdoor games is a way to generate/maintain a spot in the sports consciousness.
Outdoor hockey is still a novelty.
It should stay that way.
I guess the ultimate test will come from how the television ratings pan out and how the merchandise sales go with the unique jerseys the teams use during these games.
But there is still something special about the Winter Classic, an event that romanticizes the game, celebrates the game’s roots.
That sort of celebration should be a once-per-year festivity, not duplicated five more times throughout the season.
Change the rule
Speaking of the Kings, the league absolutely robbed Los Angeles of a victory on Jan. 18 against Detroit.
With the Kings up by a goal late in the game, a shot from Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall deflected off the stick of an L.A. player and skipped up and over the boards, hit the netting about 20 feet above the boards, bounced back over the ice, hit the back of goaltender Jonathan Quick and landed in the net with 27 seconds remaining.
All four officials on the ice lost sight of the puck until it ended up in the net, so the call on the ice was a goal.
It was looked at by the league office in Toronto, but since the play is deemed not reviewable, it was allowed to stand and the Red Wings went on to win in a shootout.
That is unacceptable.
First off, how has nobody ever thought, in the time the protective netting has been in place, that this play should be reviewable? And just because it’s deemed not a reviewable play, the league has to step in and do what was so obviously the right call and not allow the goal.
That was a valuable two points for the Red Wings to gain when they should have had none and a very important point lost by the Kings in the ultra-competitive Pacific Division.
Let’s hope this situation does not end up costing somebody a playoff spot at the end of the season.