I'm starting to think that Gary Bettman has a time machine and knows who is going to the Stanley Cup final before the season begins. He gives little hints just to mess with us.
With the announcement of this season's Winter Classic, it became official that the Washington Capitals would visit the Pittsburgh Penguins for this year's version of the widely popular event. Washington now joins Pittsburgh (2008), Detroit (2009), and Philadelphia (2010) as visiting teams in the Winter Classic. Each of those teams went on to represent their respective conferences in the Stanley Cup Final.
There's also the error engraved into the Prince of Wales Trophy recently that had the Capitals listed as the winner of the Eastern Conference this past season. He probably assumed the Capitals would go to the Final last season, hence all the speculation of Boston hosting the Capitals before a sudden switch to Philadelphia. The shocking combination of Washington's first round loss coupled with Philly's run to the Final gave plenty of people a shock last season but it seems as though Bettman's got it right this year. Now let's see what Alex Ovechkin can do once the calendar shifts to April.
Speaking of the Winter Classic, I have a few suggestions for all future games. First, if the game is scheduled to start at 1:00, then start the game at 1:00. one of the reasons for this game in the first place was to attract non-hockey fans to the sport using a combination of intrigue and wonderment , albeit for a regular season game. The hour or so of pregame festivities if fine for those at the game, but if I'm a casual sports fan I'm thinking "When is this going to start? Screw it I'll just watch a bowl game." People waving flags, drumming, and marching is all well and good, but that can start at 12:00 can't it? Besides the Dropkick Murphys, was there really anything worth delaying the game for?
Spread out the games.I don't just mean other parts of the country besides the North East, but other teams as well. Counting the Heritage Classics, the Penguins and Montreal Canadiens will have played twice each in six games. The kinks have been largely worked out, now its time to spread the wealth. Heck, just for laughs, the NHL can pit the Tampa Bay Lightning against the Florida Panthers.
An increase in rivalries could go a long way towards garnering even more hype for the game. Chicago vs. Detroit was the right idea, now let's get more teams that hate each other. Montreal has the richest history of any team in the game, something they couldn't have accomplished without making a few enemies, namely Boston and Toronto. However, the best matchups they can get are Edmonton and Calgary, two teams with good histories in their own right, but neither has much to do with Montreal. The game in Calgary is an excellent chance to introduce many unknowing hockey fans south of the border to the Battle of Alberta. A showing of the Battle of Ontario would also give Toronto fans something to cheer about for the first time since the lockout.
With pond hockey championships taking place in Minnesota every year, why not introduce the Winter Classic there as well, with Colorado as the visiting team. Dallas would be fun too with their North Stars history. An all New York Classic would also be of major interest, especially if played at Yankees or Meadowlands stadium. (Meadowlands may have better sight lines but that would only add to New York teams taking over New Jersey) Rangers fans still show distaste towards Denis Potvin, even though its been over 20 years since his retirement. Once the Islanders improve, the bad blood running between those teams would offer fans, diehard and casual, an opportunity to watch a great game.