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.
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.
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.
Besides, P.K. Subban seems pretty comfortable in football stadiums.
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.
Why they’ve been left out so far: As with most of the teams on this list, location is obviously an issue. The Lightning are a warm-weather team, and while their fan base has embraced the club, they still rank as one of the league’s smaller markets.
Their case to be included: The Lightning’s continued omission still seems at least a little surprising, given how good they’ve been in recent years. At some point, you’d think the league would want to get one of their best young teams in front of some more eyeballs.
Could they host? There’s an NFL stadium nearby, but their MLB park is indoors (and awful). Besides, they’ve already done the whole baseball stadium thing.
Odds we’ll see them outdoors soon: This really depends on whether the league wants to think outside the box a bit.
If the NHL decides to look beyond serving up combinations of the same dozen or so major markets, then the Lightning would be first in line. A Stanley Cup win would certainly nudge that concept along.
But until then, their odds are slim, and their fans seem to know that.
Why they’ve been left out so far: Their main problem has been that they’re the Florida Panthers.
That sounds harsh, I realize, but let’s be realistic: The Panthers haven’t won a playoff round in 20 years and counting, they’ve typically been short on big-name players. Not to mention, their fan base has had its ups and downs, to put it kindly.
Their case to be included: They’re certainly a team on the rise, with a strong cast of young players and a handful of fun veterans like Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo. They were the Atlantic’s top seed last year, so they’re headed in the right direction.
Could they host? They actually did come up as a possible host a few years ago. The two California games have shown that outdoor hockey can work in warmer weather, and Marlins Park has a retractable roof in case of rain.
But as one analysis puts it, they’d be “the longest of longshots.”
Odds we’ll see them outdoors soon: Minimal. Their one saving grace might be the Lightning; there’s always the chance that the league could decide to do a intrastate rivalry game like they did twice in California.
But let’s not get our hopes up.
Why they’ve been left out so far: Warm weather. Bad team. Questionable fan base.
(I’m sort of running out of ways to rewrite that.)
Their case to be included: Their fans have had to spend 20 years putting up with nonstop relocation rumors, arena squabbles, and cheap punchlines from all the league’s bigger markets. They deserve something fun.
And besides, the Coyotes have put together some of the best young talent in the league, so they may not be far from being a very good team.
Could they host? It’s not as crazy as it sounds. They’ve lobbied for a game in the past, and University of Phoenix Stadium has already hosted everything from Wrestlemania to the Super Bowl.
Odds we’ll see them outdoors soon: If (and when) they hit contender status, let’s talk. Until then, pass.
Why they’ve been left out so far: Like everyone else, they’re a southern market that…
We’ve actually found a northern team that’s been left out of the outdoor game fun. Of course, it’s a northern team that has never won a post-season round in franchise history, and typically spends more time worrying about the draft lottery than printing playoff tickets.
Their case to be included: Like the Predators, they have a recent All-Star Game under their belts. They have a couple of obvious opponents in Detroit and Pittsburgh. And they have a great venue, which we’ll get to in the next section.
Could they host? Ohio Stadium can seat over 100,000, which could give the 2014 Winter Classic a run for its money as the NHL’s biggest game ever — with the right opponent, of course.
Odds we’ll see them outdoors soon: Define “soon.”
The Blue Jackets will need to get back on track and at least get close to Cup contention — and that could take a while.
But once it happens, they’d be a great choice.
Why they’ve been left out so far: Oh good, we’re back to the southern market teams that haven’t been very good lately. I was getting worried for a second.
Their case to be included: Every few years, the Hurricanes end up hosting the hockey world for a draft, an All-Star Game, or a deep playoff run. And every time it happens, everyone ends up raving about how much they enjoyed it.
Could they host? There really aren’t any great venues nearby. (Bank of America Stadium, home to the NFL’s Panthers, is two hours away.)
Odds we’ll see them outdoors soon: Slim.
But let’s remember one wildcard in all this: there have been whispers about the NHL staging an outdoor game in Europe someday.
If that were to happen, the league might feel like they could get creative with the teams they send (sort of like how the NFL keeps sending the Jaguars to London).
Would, say, Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho be a draw if you sent the Hurricanes to Finland? It’s a longshot, sure, but it may be their best hope.
Las Vegas Something-Something-Knights
Why they’ve been left out so far: They won’t actually exist until next season. Honestly, that seems like a good reason.
Their case to be included: There really isn’t one. As a new team, they’ll have their hands full just icing a competitive roster.
And besides, there’s no need to give them a marquee game when they’ll already be getting plenty of attention over their first year or two.
Could they host? Believe it or not, the first-ever outdoor game to feature two NHL teams was held in Las Vegas, way back in 1991.
The game took place in the Caesar’s Palace parking lot, and is best remembered for melting ice and an infestation of locusts.
You never say never, because weird things have been known to happen in Las Vegas, but even ice-maker extraordinaire Dan Craig would have his hands full with this one.
Odds we’ll see them outdoors soon: Let’s call it a long shot. Someday down the line, when they’ve built up some credibility to go along with a rivalry or two, they might make sense. But that’s all going to take some time.
By the way, there are five more NHL teams that have played in an outdoor game but have never hosted.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will get their chance this year, as they prepare to host the Red Wings at BMO field for the Centennial Classic on Jan. 1, 2017.
The Ottawa Senators have been trying to set up a game for years. The Anaheim Ducks are the only California team not to have hosted. And the Montreal Canadiens will no doubt get a game as soon as they can find a decent venue.
As for that last team that’s never hosted? You could probably stump a few hockey fans with the question. It’s the New York Rangers, which may come as a surprise to fans who remember them playing a pair of games in Yankee Stadium two years ago.
But the Rangers were technically listed as the visitors for both games, due to an obscure provision in a 1982 agreement that exempts Madison Square Garden from property taxes.
That exemption ends automatically if the Rangers or Knicks ever play a home game anywhere but MSG, which is why the league will likely never let their biggest-market team host an outdoor game – at least not technically.