Wild

FERRELL: Don't Hold Your Breath for a Winter Classic in Minnesota

Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Over the weekend it was first reported and then ultimately announced on Tuesday in South Bend that the Dallas Stars will be hosting the 2020 NHL Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas next season.

This announcement — as it does every year — ruffled some feathers in Minnesota as the Wild have yet to participate and/or host the NHL’s marquee outdoor event.

While the Wild have been one of the more successful teams in the regular season over the past seven years — making the playoffs in six straight seasons — they have only advanced to the second round twice and have not gone any further.

The buzz nationally around the team prior to the season was dull in the wake of no major moves from new general manager Paul Fenton, and the team was a frequent pick to be one of the playoff teams from 2018 to miss the postseason in 2019.

So why exactly is Minnesota continuously passed over for the Winter Classic every year? It’s pretty simple. Here are the following reasons:

1. Minnesota hosted the Stadium Series in 2016 at TCF Bank Stadium

When the Winter Classic was created in 2008 it almost seemed like a shoo-in for Minnesota to be a host at some point. While for years, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told Wild owner Craig Leipold that his team would have to get better — as they endured four seasons of missing the playoffs between 2009 and 2012 — in order for them to host an outdoor game.

Well, the Wild got the ship righted, and were awarded a Stadium Series game in the third year since the adoption of the event to accompany the Winter Classic. Instead of the Dallas Stars — previously the Minnesota North Stars — the Wild reportedly requested the Chicago Blackhawks as their opponent for the February 2016 game.

In the week leading up to the game — which featured an alumni game between the Blackhawks and North Stars/Wild — the NHL returned 4,000 tickets and the game was considered a non-sell out in the 50,000-seat football stadium on the University of Minnesota campus. Like it or not, the NHL probably remembers that game as a non sell out.

Also something to consider: Besides TCF Bank Stadium, is there any other viable stadium option in the Twin Cities for this event? The Vikings play indoors (no, retractable windows do not count), Target Field keeps their field heated throughout the winter and CHS Field is too small. Only Heinz Field in Pittsburgh has hosted an outdoor game twice.

2. NBC/NBCSN ratings for Minnesota games do well locally, but not nationally

The Wild crush local cable ratings year in and year out with local cable affiliate Fox Sports North. However, when the Wild play on NBC or NBCSN they do not draw in ratings around the country that other teams do. To the league and NBC Sports, the fact that Minnesota does not draw an audience nationally plays big in the fact that it does not get the Winter Classic.

Trying to showcase a team with little postseason success and relatively no star power on the league’s biggest stage does not exactly bring in the big-time sponsorship money. This is a huge part of why Minnesota is not hosting. Money talks, folks.

3. The Wild roster is stale and excites no one

Low ratings nationally can be attributed to the fact Minnesota does not possess big-time star power that other teams — who NBC Sports loves to showcase — possess. Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu are bigger names locally, but on the national stage they are not considered superstars — like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Kane, which is what the NHL wants in their marquee event.

Minnesota is by and large considered to be a stale team on the national level as well, as mentioned before, many pundits picked the Wild to miss the playoffs entirely this year. Having a team that not many get excited about year in and year out does not bode well for fans hoping to host the Winter Classic.

Dallas hosting the Winter Classic in 2020 only makes Minnesota a logical opponent for fans in Minnesota. Does the Stars organization or fans have any ties to wanting the Wild — an opponent of which exists no real rivalry and has just one previous postseason matchup — as their opponent in the Cotton Bowl game? Absolutely not.

If the league wants to fill the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, they will need to go with an opponent with more stars and more excitement to get eyes on this game. More southern teams like Nashville or Tampa Bay — both of whom have never played in an outdoor game — come to mind as they have been two of the better teams in the league in recent memory.

The Wild, however, are not that team. Not now, and certainly not moving forward, unless Paul Fenton can pull a rabbit out of his hat and find some stars and excitement for his team.

Minnesota won’t be hosting a Winter Classic anytime soon. Save yourself the angst and just get used to it.


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