The Carolina Hurricanes are expected to be the host of next year’s Winter Classic, and it could get announced on Saturday. This outside-the-box thinking could lead to the New Jersey Devils getting consideration for an outdoor game again.
It’s pretty clear that the New Jersey Devils of old are gone. There are good things and bad things about that. The bad is obvious. The Devils haven’t been winning. Like, at all. They’ve missed the playoffs in four of the five years since Lou Lamoriello left.
However, we’re getting more access to the Devils. We have behind-the-scenes shows, more access to the players lives and more personality off the ice. Most of us would like that to come with wins on the ice, but these things take time. They are completely changing a culture, and sometimes it takes a season to get everything in order.
The point is this; the Devils are on their way to getting past their “trap killed hockey” personality. This new-look Devils led by Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, with on-ice personalities of players like P.K. Subban and Blake Coleman, is the kind of team that’s going to eventually make headway into the national lexicon.
The brings us to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes are a team that for a long time had worse attendance numbers than the Devils. Their fans heard the same things we heard. They have no fans. They are going to move to Kansas City or Quebec City or Seattle. Fans from Montreal, Toronto and Chicago love to bring up their “lack of fans”. Yet, here we are, giving an outdoor game to the team that got famous thanks to the Storm Surge.
Greg Wyshynski of ESPN reports the Hurricanes will play a game in 2021 at Carter-Finley Stadium, N.C. State’s football venue. We don’t know the opponent yet, but how successful this game is will determine whether the future of outdoor hockey will ever involved the Devils again.
The Devils played in an outdoor back in 2014, where it was the classic rivalry against the New York Rangers. Honestly, the ratings weren’t awful. They did a 1.3 national average, which was better than the rest of the games airing on NBC that season outside the playoffs, the other Stadium Series game on NBC and the Winter Classic. They had more than 2 million viewers nationwide.
Obviously, the Rangers had a lot to do with that rating, but this was a team with Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias and Jaromir Jagr. There was a lot of star power for the Devils, and the Rangers eventually went to the Stanley Cup so they obviously had a great team, too.
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If the Hurricanes outdoor game does well, it opens the door for so many possibilities for the Devils. The Winter Classic this season had a down year, but that’s mostly because of a problem with the Nielsen ratings. It’s really unfortunate, since it was the year they chose the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators.
When looking at outdoor games as a whole, it’s been split actually well, despite the national narrative. Only six teams never played an outdoor game (how is the Tampa Bay Lightning one of those teams?). When the Hurricanes play, that makes it five, and we have to imagine the Vegas Golden Knights will get one soon. The Penguins lead the league with five outdoor games.
The Devils aren’t going to get a Winter Classic. That’s fine, since there’s literally only one per year. However, being able to play a matchup in, say, Lincoln Financial Field or Citizen’s Bank Ballpark against the Philadelphia Flyers would be awesome.
To be honest, the Devils need to do a better job of building rivalries. They were well on their way in 2018. They had the Hart Trophy winner on the team. The series with the Tampa Bay Lightning was getting really good, and really feisty. Then, it all fell apart when Sami Vatanen got hurt. Nothing was the same after Game 4.
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This is honestly a conversation for a few years from now. The Devils need to make the playoffs on a consistent basis to get into the conversation for an outdoor game. However, if Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes continue to grow into a Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin type duo, this will be a ticket people want to see. Pittsburgh is not a traditional hockey market. Same thing goes with Tampa. Yet, they are both in the top ten in attendance. The same could go for the Devils if they just get to their level as far as play.
If they get to that level, and these games in non-traditional hockey markets do well, then the Devils would absolutely be in line for an outdoor game. Let’s all root for the Hurricanes game to do well.