Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The eight teams left out of the outdoor fun

The Winnipeg Jets hosted the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday at the Heritage Classic.

It was the team’s first ever outdoor game, marking a long-awaited opportunity for the Jets to finally join the club of NHL teams that have taken it outside.

The club isn’t all that exclusive these days, thanks to a long list of outdoor games held over the years.

Counting the Las Vegas expansion franchise, there are now nine NHL teams that have never been involved in an outdoor game. (That list will shrink by one later this season, when the Blues make their debut by hosting the Winter Classic.)

Today, let's take a look at those other teams and see which ones have the best chance of joining the Blues and Jets at the big kids table.

When it comes to the NHL's outdoor games, here are the eight teams that could say they've been… left out in the cold.

[Editor's note: That was terrible and didn't even make sense.]

I don't feel any better about it than you do. On to the list.

Dallas Stars

Why they've been left out so far: The Stars have had two strikes against them; they're a southern-based team, and they haven't been all that good for most of the outdoor era, missing the playoffs in six out of eight years since the Winter Classic began in 2008.

Their case to be included: They may not have been good before, but they are now, finishing last season as the Western Conference's top seed. And maybe even more importantly when it comes to an event that's as much about marketing as the game itself, they're all sorts of fun to watch.

As the dead puck era drags on, the league should be doing a better job of promoting the few teams that are willing to play a more open style. As for geography, it's worth remembering that all three California teams have appeared in outdoor games, and those went off just fine.

Could they host? There's been talk about holding a game at AT&T Stadium for years. Putting a game in Jerry Jones' 80,000-seat monstrosity has to be tempting for the league, assuming they think they could fill it.

Odds we'll see them outdoors soon: You’d have to think that they're high on the NHL's list, although they may need to ease in as a visitor first. They'd have been a good choice for Minnesota, given the franchise's shared history, but as per league bylaws that spot went to the Blackhawks instead.

Still, the Stars have waited long enough; here's hoping they make an appearance next year.

Nashville Predators

Why they've been left out so far: We could copy and paste a lot of what we had for the Stars, although the Predators have had more playoff success over the years. But they're one of the league's smaller markets, so they've always been left out of the outdoor showcase games.

Their case to be included: They did a great job with last year's All-Star Game, and like the Stars they're an exciting team that usually makes for must-watch hockey.

If we look at the bigger picture, there's a chicken-or-egg thing that comes into play with some of these teams.

The league considers their outdoor games to be marquee events, so they only want to give them to marquee franchises. But how is a team supposed to attain that status without a push from the NHL? Winning a Stanley Cup can do it — at least temporarily — and maybe the Predators or Stars take care of that this year.

But at some point, you can't keep serving up the Blackhawks and Penguins and then wonder why fans aren't excited for the rest of the league.

The NFL has historically done a good job of promoting smaller-market teams, and has reaped the rewards of that. The NHL could learn a lesson from them.

Could they host? It's possible, with the nearby NFL stadium being a potential site. But the Predators feel like another team that would be a better fit as a visitor — at least for their first time out.

Odds we'll see them outdoors soon: We'll keep our fingers crossed. Their case would be helped by more national exposure, a strong rivalry with a potential opponent, and solidified status as an elite team. Luckily, they can take care of all three of those with one good playoff run this spring.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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