NHL: Stop Shutting Out St. Louis from the Winter Classic

One of the more confounding mysteries to St. Louis Blues fans is the lack of a Winter Classic — or even mention of the consolation Stadium Series or Heritage Classic — coming to town. Recently, Blues owner Tom Stillman had to enthusiastically raise his hand from the back of the classroom to remind Mr. Bettman the team still exists. The theories are many, ranging from small market size to lack of championships, with the most diabolical conspiracy revolving around preventing a Coors-sponsored event in Busch Stadium. Excuses and rationalizations aside, it’s high time the NHL and Gary Bettman show a little more respect to one of the original expansion teams.

(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
Warm-climate California-based teams have played in multiple NHL Winter Series. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

NHL Must Invest in St. Louis

As other respected St. Louis hockey writers previously mentioned, St. Louis has a rather unpredictable attendance issue. Observers that note these things, while true to a certain extent, shouldn’t forget that the NHL hasn’t exactly done backflips to showcase a team with the tradition of the Blues. True, there’s never been a Stanley Cup parade, but the Blues absent a few short rebuilding years have been in contention virtually every year since their inception. The team routinely features top players, is often found at the top of the standings and is normally in the playoffs. This is a team that has featured Brett Hull, Curtis Joseph, Brandan Shanahan, Wayne Gretzky, Grant Fuhr, Esa Tikkanen, Martin Brodeur and veritable list of Hall of Famer who’s who. Meanwhile, the League and Gary Bettman have made enormous strides to showcase non-traditional markets, while forgetting St. Louis. Even the Minnesota Wild with less than 15 years in existence are on the docket for a Stadium Series. The League has it backwards if they refuse to offer the city a chance at a major event such as the Winter Classic, then wonder why they feel attendance and viewership might be too low to make it a wise investment. After all, if the Los Angeles Kings — playing in a city major media outlets often called the Lakers — can get these events, there’s absolutely no excuse for a hockey-mad market like St. Louis to be shut out.

(Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)
Minnesota gets the same pity vote as Winnipeg for hosting a major NHL event. (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

Even Non-St. Louisans are Tired of Repeating Teams

OK, we get it. Original Six, Stanley Cups etc. It’s not bias if it’s true, and the truth is, the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins can afford to sit out a year. There’s little disagreement from even casual fans that Original Six teams, thick with history and tradition, should be showcased in these special stadium events. However, when other expansion teams like the Flyers, Penguins, Capitals (?), Wild (North Stars) and Kings are in these series and the Blues are not, there at least appears to be some level of bias. The Winnipeg Jets, after all, host the 2016 Heritage Classic (steeped in hockey lore and championships as they are). Although it’s true that perception is the lazy man’s reality, when something happens enough patterns begin to form. The fact remains that the league for some reason appears to be purposefully avoiding St. Louis, when Chicago and Detroit have appeared in multiple Winter Classics, Columbus had the 2015 All-Star Game and the Wild have been announced as a Stadium Series participant. When the Blue Jackets supersede the Blues in a major event, something’s amiss. Hockey fans like variety, and even if their city isn’t participating in a special event they still appreciate not seeing the same handful of teams every year. If the League wishes to bore casual fans rather than piquing their interest, it will engage in the same actions for the near future.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Yes, Boston again. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)