HOW MUCH IS too much of a good thing? The NHL is about to find out. Riding the success of the Winter Classic—the alfresco game that has been a part of the schedule since 2008—the league plans to put on a whopping six outdoor matches this season, including the rescheduled tilt on New Year's Day at Michigan Stadium between the Maple Leafs and the Red Wings, which wasn't played last January because of the lockout. Also on the slate are the battle of Southern California between the Kings and the Ducks, at Dodger Stadium on Jan. 25; two games for the Rangers at Yankee Stadium, against the Devils (Jan. 26) and the Islanders (Jan. 29); the Blackhawks against the Penguins at Soldier Field on March 1; and the Canucks against the Senators on March 2 at BC Place in Vancouver.
Outdoor hockey is a moneymaker; the six games this winter will generate millions in revenue, which will be split evenly between the players and the NHL. Outdoor hockey is also certainly a crowd pleaser; all seven previous outdoor games have been sellouts. And it is a hit with players. "I'd love to play in one every year," says Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who beat the Flyers 3--2 before 46,967 people at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park in the 2012 Winter Classic. "It's such a cool thing to do."
Lundqvist may get his wish. Given outdoor hockey's popularity and revenue-making potential, expect the league to make it an increasingly regular feature of the NHL schedule. At least for now, there is little reason not to add more games if the novelty of playing in the fresh air has not faded. "I hope you see more [outdoor games]," says Islanders center John Tavares. "The league is playing a strong hand. As long as they don't overplay it, I'm sure you'll see a lot more."
DAVID E. KLUTHO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (WINTER CLASSIC)
FIELD HOCKEY When the Red Wings and the Blackhawks met at Wrigley in 2009, the Winter Classic was one of a kind.