After months of speculation the Flyers have pulled a dramatic upset to win the away team bid for the 2010 Winter Classic over the Washington Capitals. It couldn’t have happened though without quite a bit of help. In this story Bettman’s plans to have Ovechkin on the biggest hockey stage of the modern NHL outside of the Stanley Cup Finals were foiled by NBC in spectacular deus ex machina fashion. The Flyers on the other hand, who were holding out to host their own Winter Classic in the near future, got to have their cake and eat it too thanks to the push for higher ratings.
In order to grasp the full story it must be told from the beginning. Months ago it was widely speculated that the Philadelphia Flyers had pulled out of the race to be the Boston Bruins opponent on January 1st, 2010 in order to host a Winter Classic of their own down the road against the division and in-state rival Pittsburgh Penguins. Because of this the Washington Capitals were believed to have won a decisive victory.
It would be the biggest stage Ovechkin could ask for; New Year’s Day, the cold, the great outdoors, a legendary field, and the biggest audience he could possibly imagine. For the NHL’s MVP two years running there could be no better place to show just how good you are.
Unfortunately for those wishing the Capitals good luck on their journey to Boston an announcement came from the organization declaring they had not received any word that they would be participating in the Fenway game. In fact the organization denied claims by many reporters that the Capitals already knew they would be at the 2010 Winter Classic. In reality the Capitals knew nothing. They were told nothing. So what really happened as Washington went from front-runner to last place?
NBC, who Bettman had just re-signed with as a TV outlet for the NHL, had stepped in and put a damper on Bettman’s brilliant strategy to get another face of the NHL outside in freezing weather.
Implications about NBC controlling the Winter Classic over the NHL aside, the broadcasting company was worried about the Capitals’ TV ratings during their series against the New York Rangers in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Instead NBC much preferred the Philadelphia Flyers who hold one of if not the biggest market on the American side of the NHL. NBC pushed, but Bettman would not budge.
Finally, the league commissioner gave in. He talked with the Flyers who were still holding out to host their own Winter Classic against the Penguins. It wasn’t until the organization was assured that this away trip to Boston would not endanger their chances of hosting the event in the upcoming years that the orange and black agreed to journey to Fenway.
And there you have it. NBC made the decision, and because of it the Flyers made out like bandits. Not only do they get the marketing of a Winter Classic at historic Fenway Park, but in the near future they could very well host an epic outdoor battle for the rights to Pennsylvania.
So are there still those out there upset to see Ovechkin miss his first (but not the last I promise you) chance to join in on this new, incredible NHL tradition? Don’t be. NBC may not get Ovechkin, Green, Semin, and Backstrom this year, but they didn’t want them to begin with.
The Flyers vs. Bruins battle will be incredible. The 2008-09 saga created a deep hatred between the two teams stemming from the Jones on Bergeron hit (video) and the Hartnell on Alberts hit (video) both of 2007-08. And then of course there was the Lucic hit on Jones that brought out the evil, maniacal side of Jack Edwards who disgraced the entire broadcasting profession this past season (article). Add to that four tight regular season games split with both teams scoring 12 total goals against the other, and you have all the recent history you need.
Everyone knows their ancient history of course and the Cup that the Flyers stole from Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr in six games to mark Lord Stanley’s first trip to an NHL expansion team back in 1974.
There is plenty of history between these two juggernauts, new and old, even if they haven’t met in the postseason recently. Both have young, talented offensive cores and underrated defenses. It will definitely be a battle of will-power as well with both rosters unafraid to battle it out for every puck mentally and physically of course.
Barring extreme roster changes it’s going to be a battle of Emery and Thomas, an NHL prodigal son fresh off a stellar KHL season and a 2009 Vezina Trophy winner. A battle of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, Danny Briere, Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, and Joffrey Lupul against Marc Savard, David Krejci, Phil Kessel, Patrice Bergeron, Blake Wheeler, Milan Lucic, and Michael Ryder. The clash of the destructive giant Zdeno Chara and the quick but deadly Kimmo Timonen.
You couldn’t write a better script than this. If the NHL cannot figure out a way to market two ageless wonders that have been giants since the 70s then they don’t deserve the Winter Classic.
All of this of course cannot be confirmed until July 15th when the NHL releases its official statement and schedule for the 2010 season, but don’t be shocked when Philadelphia is away on January 1st, 2010.