The NHL should put the Penguins in as many Winter Classics as possible

We're not going to "Fire Joe Morgan" him (because we like him and he didn't spew total nonsense) but Tony from the Confluence had these thoughts about further Pittsburgh participation in the Winter Classic, summed up in this one block:

Just say no, Penguins...Let teams play that haven’t experienced it yet, like the Caps, Wild, Rangers, Devils or Avalanche.

I don't get it and I don't like it.  The Penguins are the biggest draw the NHL has going.  They have the most popular and recognizable player in the sport and as reigning Stanley Cup champions, they're the best team to boot.  That is exactly what the NHL should showcase, over and over again.

Mind-bogglingly I find myself agreeing with Matthew Barnaby, who on ESPN the other day noted the similarities between what the NBA does on Christmas day and the NHL's new tradition of the New Year's Day outdoor game.  The NBA has trotted out the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant (the most recognizable franchise in their league led by one of the biggest stars) for 11 straight years on Christmas. 

Lately, they've been including LeBron James in the mix, and casual fans -- the main audience targeted on the holidays -- have eaten it up.  Obviously there's a world of difference between basketball and hockey in relation to star power, but this is what's made the NBA a success: Lakers. Kobe. LeBron. The name factor and star factor is, and should be, huge.

The NHL has Sidney Crosby and they have Alex Ovechkin.  One of them --or better BOTH of them-- should be featured in every single Winter Classic, until bigger stars rise.  You want to showcase your best, not just a cool stadium.

Wrigley Field and Fenway Park have been the biggest draws of the past two Winter Classics.  The casual fan might flip it on NBC to see what hockey looks like at a classic baseball stadium, but after having it at Yankee Stadium (which is almost surely where it'll be for 2011), that novelty will have about worn off.  We're running out of novelty venues.  The atmosphere of the outdoor stadium will always be important but It's time to let the players, and not the baseball park, put the show on. 

Ask about any intelligent hockey fan, though they might disagree on the order, but they'd admit that Crosby, Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin are the game's three most skilled offensive players.  The idea of the Winter Classic should be to spotlight the game's best and brightest.  The top 3 players play on two teams, it's a match made in heaven and too simple to screw up.

While it's nice to share the wealth of letting other teams with great players too get their chance, it comes down to maximizing what the marquee stars of the league can do.  It should be the Pittsburgh Penguins responsibility as an NHL franchise, to elevate the state of the game for the rest of their partner franchises in the NHL.  Who thinks NBC (or anyone really) would want a Wild v. Avalanche next year or, (outside of the NY market) a Devils v. Rangers game?  Doesn't perk my interest, and I couldn't see "Joe Sportsfan" giving it much a chance either. 

On the other hand, you hype up a Crosby v. Ovechkin battle and attention will follow.  That the two don't like each other much anyways only adds fuel to the fire.  Even if we die-hard fans are tired of the ceaseless attention those two players get, the "average" fan needs something to latch on to.  Crosby and Ovechkin put on a classic battle last spring, why not incorporate that into the tradition of the Winter Classic?

Sure teams and markets like Chicago, Detroit, Philly, New York, St. Louis and LA deserve and need to be highlighted.  But the game has to be sold around the stars.  At some point the star of the show isn't going to be a novelty like the venue, it's going to have to be the players and the product.  What better way than to let the best and highest profile do it?

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