Saturday evening was just another night for me. I ate an early dinner, shaved and headed to the Scottrade Center to cover the Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues game at 7 o’clock Central Daylight Time.
When I arrived at the arena, I powered up the old computer and jumped on Twitter. I instantly started realizing that there was more chatter than usual about the upcoming San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings matchup. Yes, I realized that the Kings had a six-game winning streak on the line and the Sharks were trying to claw their way back into the playoff picture, but this seemed to garner as much attention as a Boston Bruins-Montreal Canadiens matchup. Why was that?
Oh yea, it’s a Stadium Series contest.
Here I am reporting for an NHL team and I forgot that there was a Stadium Series game being played in the same evening. I built up the courage to tell another Blues media member about the lapse in memory, only to find out that he had forgotten, as well.
The truth is that the Stadium Series is an afterthought; an outdoor game that is played after the important outdoor game. It was made to satisfy those fans that will probably never see a Winter Classic (with the exception of last season, which was a circus to kick off what seems like an annual event).
It’s an event that could captivate audiences across North America. However, its current format does not allow a national audience to remember its existence.
The game was played on a Saturday evening when there were three games still in progress at the start of the Kings-Sharks NBC Sports broadcast. Of the 11 games being played that day, only two were scheduled in the afternoon (clearing enough time between league games and the Stadium Series event). The remaining five games, which had a start time of 6 o’clock CDT, gave about an hour and a half of time between when those games ended and when the Kings and Sharks would begin play.
The afternoon games positively allowed enough time between events, while the early evening games gave just enough time to fans who wanted to watch both games. The later crew, with 7 o’clock or later start times, have to miss at least the beginning of the event’s festivities and, in some cases, the start of the game itself.
How many games were played the entire day of the 2015 Winter Classic? Two; one being the NHL’s premier event at noon CDT and the other, the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks, starting at 9 o’clock.
I won’t argue that the Winter Classic is the bigger event; it deserves the national coverage and the lead-up show that comes with it. However, the NHL doesn’t even seem to try to provide the Stadium Series with a national spotlight.
During Hockey Weekend Across America, it would make sense that the League’s marquee event would be the outdoor game on American soil, thus receiving a national broadcast. Instead, the spotlight shined brightest on Sunday, the day after.
NBC broadcasted two NHL games the day after the Stadium Series. At 11:30 CDT, the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers faced off, which was followed by a 2:30 matinee that pitted the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks against each other.
Although this was a blessing to hockey fans to watch back-to-back games on a national platform, it left the Stadium Series as a distant memory just hours after it ended.
Why not move the Stadium Series contest to Sunday afternoon, headlining Hockey Weekend Across America?
Saturday could be a huge event, too, leading into Sunday’s festivities. NBC Sports could cover an afternoon game, an early evening game (east coast) and a late matchup (west coast). All of the coverage could feature live look-ins at the assembly of the Stadium Series, including features on players and coverage of the teams’ practices outdoors.
In the case of 2016, the League could host two games on the same day. The Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks could play in the afternoon, while the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings could take the night game (both dates have already been announced; Minnesota will host Chicago on Feb. 21 and Colorado will host Detroit on Feb. 27).
[See related: Stadium Series in the State of Hockey]
Obviously, the only issue is getting both venues on the same day. If this is not possible, though, the NHL could stretch the events out to cover two weekends in a row. This is what the NHL has done with next year’s event, but it’s all but a guarantee that there will be other NHL games scheduled at the same time.
The rest of the NHL schedule has not yet been manufactured. It is still possible to make the Minnesota game the showcase for Hockey Day Across America, if it falls on the same weekend.
If the intent is to oblige the 21 teams that don’t participate in the Winter Classic, build the Stadium Series games to be more than just an event for the local fans.
Make it a memorable event, not just an afterthought.