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Updated: January 27th, 2014 4:57pm
Zulgad: Too much of a good thing could prove costly for NHL outdoors

Zulgad: Too much of a good thing could prove costly for NHL outdoors

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The fact that Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold wants to see his franchise play host to one of the NHL's crown jewels, the Winter Classic, makes perfect sense.

The Jan. 1 game might be the best idea the NHL has had since Gary Bettman took over as commissioner and to play it at either Target Field or TCF Bank Stadium would present a perfect opportunity to celebrate hockey in a state where so many embrace the sport.

The NHL, however, has yet to award a Winter Classic to Minnesota and next year's game, the seventh edition, is slated for Washington, D.C.

Because of this, there have been reports that Leipold has changed his stance and that instead of holding out for a Winter Classic he would be willing to host what the NHL has dubbed its Stadium Series. Leipold told the Pioneer Press in a story printed Saturday that the Wild would do this in order to improve their chances of getting a future Winter Classic.

Let's hope the Wild never gets this opportunity.

The Winter Classic was and remains a fantastic idea. The Stadium Series added four outdoor games this season and there will be six total, including the Heritage Classic on March 2 in Vancouver.

John Collins, the NHL's chief operating officer, told the league website there would definitely be fewer than six in 2014-15.

That's a start.

If the NHL comes to its senses, the number of outdoor games should be down to two: the Winter Classic and the Heritage Classic in Canada.

The Stadium Series might have a few short-term benefits - the Ducks-Kings game on Saturday in Dodger Stadium featured a beach volleyball area and drew 54,099 - but ultimately the expansion of this series is all about greed.

It's also a prime opportunity for the NHL to take a great idea and wear it out in short order.

Leipold might like the idea of playing a random January or February game outdoors, but that is shortsighted. If you're picked to play in a Winter Classic, you take your chances with the weather that day but you do so with the knowledge that the game is something special.

There is nothing special about the Stadium Series, other than the fact that the team that plays host to that game becomes part of the greed machine.

Anyone who watched the Red Wings-Maple Leafs on New Year's Day in Ann Arbor, Mich., saw the snow falling, the puck getting stuck in said snow and the ice become worse by the minute.

The reaction on that day: "That's hockey as these guys played it when they were kids." At least for those who grew up playing outdoors and now getting prime ice time.

But if you watched the Devils and Rangers play Sunday, the reaction as the snow fell at Yankee Stadium was far different. The game was delayed because of glare from the sun, the ice was bad enough that the puck bounced all over the place and some of the world's most-skilled players were slowed by the conditions.

Once a year this might be cute, but more than one time a year it comes across as the NHL admitting its regular-season product does not matter. Some will argue the 82-game regular season is far too long and many games don't matter that much.

If you told that to Bettman what do you think the response would be?

But Bettman could not argue the fact that what happened Sunday at Yankee Stadium was an admission that the spectacle was more important than the game. The same thing will happen again Wednesday when the Rangers and Islanders meet at Yankee Stadium.

The final count will be three outdoor games in a five-day period. This is known as overkill.

If the NHL is so anxious to play more games outdoors, the perfect solution would be to hold the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, the Heritage Classic in Canada in February or March and also conduct its All-Star Game in the elements.

The All-Star Game has become nothing more than an indoor-scoring spectacle and long ago grew tired. Making that exhibition an outdoor event would make it more interesting and actually be a perfect marriage.

The NHL already proved with the Dodger Stadium event that you can hold an All-Star Game outdoors in a warm-weather city so you could play it in the south as well.

This might mean it will take longer for the Wild to get an outdoor game, but in this case there would be nothing wrong with continuing to show patience.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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