The NHL took it back outside earlier this week with a pair of games. Sunday's Centennial Classic and Monday's Winter Classic brought the total number of regular season outdoor games in league history to 21, with one more to come this season.
This year's list includes some history, as Sunday's Red Wings/Maple Leafs pairing became the first ever outdoor rematch, repeating the 2014 Winter Classic matchup. That makes some sense, since Toronto and Detroit are the kind of longtime rivals that the league seems to like to feature in these games. We'll get Flyers vs. Penguins later this year, and we've already had rivalry showdowns like Habs vs. Bruins, Rangers vs. Islanders, Wings vs. Avalanche, and Blackhawks vs. pretty much everyone.
In fact, given that the league is already recycling matchups, you might assume that all the best rivalries have already been done. But that's not quite true. So today, let's look ahead at the best five rivalry matchups that we've yet to see in the great outdoors.
5. Stars vs. Wild
A good rivalry needs some bad blood and a good dose of history. Well, what works better than "You stole our franchise"? Having the new Stars head back to Minnesota to face city they abandoned over 20 years ago seems like a natural fit.
According to the rumor mill, we nearly got this matchup last year, when the Wild made their outdoor debut. The league wanted Dallas in the game, the story goes, but ownership preferred Chicago. So instead, we got the somewhat odd sight of the new and old Stars combining into one alumni team as the Blackhawks got yet another turn in the outdoor spotlight.
Business is business, and it's hard to deny that the Hawks are the league's marquee team right now. But a Wild/Stars matchup would be a good one, not to mention a rematch of last year's opening round (and quite possibly this year's as well). Mix in the fact that the Stars are one of the league's most entertaining teams and the Wild are one of this year's biggest stories, and you've got yourself a nice little matchup.
4. Blue Jackets vs. Penguins
OK, let's be honest – this is one of those NHL rivalries that kind of flows in only one direction. Columbus considers the Penguins a rival. But ask a Pittsburgh fan about their top rivalry, and they'll answer with the Flyers, or maybe the Caps or Rangers. The Blue Jackets don't really register… yet.
But that "yet" is the key word, because it feels like we might be on the verge of something here. With the two teams fighting for top spot in the Metro, a playoff showdown seems like a definite possibility. And unlike their 2014 Round 1 meeting, in which the underdog Blue Jackets won their first two postseason games ever before bowing out to the heavily favored Penguins, this one would feel like a marquee matchup.
Columbus is one of the eight teams that's never been invited to play in an outdoor game, and as recently as a few months ago it seemed unlikely that they would be anytime soon. But that was before they transformed into the 1977 Canadiens on steroids, and now they're one of the league's most talked about teams. Having them face off against the Penguins – maybe even at the 100,000-seat Ohio Stadium – suddenly seems like an idea worth considering.