It's not official yet, but several reports in the past 24 hours indicate that Philadelphia is the leading candidate to host the next NHL Winter Classic, and that the Flyers' most likely opponent is the Rangers. (With Lincoln Financial Field booked for some other sport on January 1, the NHL is likely to stage the game at Citizens Bank Park, possibly on Monday, January 2. We think this all sounds pretty great. Here's three reasons why.
1. If the Rangers are going leave the metropolitan area to play in their first Winter Classic, Philadelphia's the best place to do it. For those willing to brave the cold and see the thing in person, it's an easy drive down the New Jersey Turnpike — closer than Washington or any other city with a chance of hosting the annual game. Granted, the Phillies' ballpark holds almost 24,000 fewer people than the Eagles' stadium — fewer tickets surely equals higher prices, at least on the secondary market — but getting in isn't going to be cheap no matter where they hold the thing. And as far as opponents go, with the NHL unlikely to want a second team from the New York market to play against the Rangers, the Flyers are as good a rival as any.
2. Without overanalyzing the pros and cons of having cameras follow a team around for a month, we really, really want to see John Tortorella on HBO's 24/7. The whole thing would be fascinating — seeing how the Rangers operate, on and off the ice — but an uncensored Tortorella is the most intriguing character of the bunch.
3. It gives the NHL a chance to see what happens with the Pinstripe Bowl. We've advocated in the past for a game at Citi Field, but we'll admit that's a bit shortsighted: Yankee Stadium — which currently hosts the Pinstripe Bowl in late December — remains the best New York venue for the Rangers. The key words there are "currently hosts."
With the Blackhawks, Bruins and Red Wings all having taken part in past Winter Classics, the Rangers are the only Original Six team from the United States yet to play an outdoor regular-season game. There has been talk since before the old Yankee Stadium was torn down that the NHL would like to stage a Winter Classic in the Bronx, but college football's Pinstripe Bowl makes that an impossibility until at least the 2014-15 season.
The NHL would be more likely to wait to see if the Pinstripe Bowl becomes a permanent fixture than to consider a Winter Classic at Citi Field or the Meadowlands. Among the reasons for that patience is that the Islanders would want to be involved in a Queens game, and the Devils in New Jersey. In order to generate maximum TV ratings, the NHL would prefer to have the Rangers, and would prefer to have them face an opponent from another market.
By finally getting the Rangers into a Winter Classic — as a road team — the league buys itself a few years to learn the future of the Pinstripe Bowl. They'd surely like to stage a game in the country's biggest media market, and if Pinstripe Bowl remains at Yankee Stadium permanently, then the league can look into Citi Field, or whatever we're calling New Meadowlands Stadium by then. And if Yankee Stadium does become available in late December and early January, then the league can finally stage a game in the Bronx. It'll be easier, as a fan, to be patient if the Rangers do indeed get their chance to skate outdoors next January, a mere hundred miles away.