The Winter Classic is fun. I won't deny that watching the first one in Buffalo was special -- the snow, the uniforms, the spectacle, it was all there. Even the later ones have been enjoyable and usually are good games. It doesn't matter that they're regular season games; the players approach them as a special event, and they are. 2012's in Philly was a blast to watch, and 2009 in Wrigley Field was also fun even if most of us were rooting for the meteor.
Are there problems with the WC? Of course. 2011's in Pittsburgh at Heinz Field was a mess thanks to rain that made the ice unpleasant to skate on. The past few seasons it's also probably been a little warmer than ideal for the ice. You can nitpick all that you want, but it's still fun and it's still a cash grab for the teams involved and the NHL. The venues, especially next season's at the University of Michigan, are huge and sell out. The jerseys are well designed and fans snap them up. Concessions, souvenirs... you name it. If something is special and happens once a year, folks are going to buy stuff.
The NHL apparently figures that enthusiasm is based around the outdoor game concept and not the rarity of said game. They're planning six outdoor games next year, all in big cities and at big venues, and hey! Look! Western Conference teams are involved too. How adorbs.
Here's the schedule, from Puck Daddy:
• Ducks vs. Kings at Dodger Stadium, Jan. 25
• Devils vs. Rangers at Yankee Stadium, Jan. 26
• Islanders vs. Rangers at Yankee Stadium, Jan 29
• Penguins at Blackhawks, Soldier Field, March 1
• Senators at Canucks, BC Place, March 2
So, then, the Rangers will be playing in their third and fourth outdoor games, the Penguins will be in their third, and the Blackhawks and Red Wings will be playing in their second. But hey, Islanders! Exciting! And the daring do of setting up an outdoors game at Dodger Stadium will be interesting. Have fun making ice in 60 degree weather.
The slate of games are ok and will be fun to watch and will sell a ton of stuff and make the league back money that they've lost on the lock-out, which is probably the reason they're doing this to begin with. Kudos to the league in realizing that there are teams outside of the Northeast and Atlantic Divisions, too. But will TV viewers care? After the Winter Classic and maybe the one in LA, no. The novelty is gone, and this will just diminish the excitement of that one, too.
Will viewers tune out specifically because it's an outdoor game? No. Will they be more prone to watch the Winter Classic because it's an outdoors game? Probably not - chances are good that they will be less so. This is geared towards the casual fan, but when the causal fan stops thinking something is special, he won't make a point to tune in.
Sure, as Sean Leahy points out, this just makes it easier for teams like the Wild and the Blues to host one, but I don't want St. Louis hosting an also-ran at Busch Stadium. I want the Blues in the Winter Classic, and I want just one outdoor (or two, for Canada) game a year. I want the spectacle to be there. I want a special logo with the Arch and snow and maybe a redbird on it for a special game, not for some outdoors thing the league has thrown together because they want an extra buck or two.
If the league would just make a point of incorporating different teams into the Winter Classic every year instead of the exact same ones, this problem is solved and the WC is still special - maybe even more so, because it will include Western Conference teams that no one ever gets a chance to see much of. Trotting out six a year, mostly with the usual suspects as participants, isn't what the NHL needs to do.