Over the past six years, the Chicago Blackhawks have gone from being a legendary franchise on the decline to a team that just about every franchise in professional sports should aspire to be.
They are a well-run, well-coached team full of exciting players, savvy veterans, great prospects, and a long-term vision that should see them competing for Stanley Cup titles for years to come.
With all of those traits, it isn’t a stretch to see why the NHL and its television partners love showcasing the Blackhawks on high profile stages. Whether it’s the slew of games that the team plays on NBC and NBCSN, or the fact that the league has now given the Blackhawks two outdoor games to host (the only team in the league to do so), it’s pretty clear that the league likes the cut of Chicago’s jib, and that relationship should continue into the future.
It is that knowledge that has led some folks to speculate as to whether or not the Hawks will participate in the next round of Stadium Series games next season, or if they may even end up in the Winter Classic. Reports have already come out that the league has decided to award the 2015 Classic to the Washington Capitals, but no opponent has been agreed upon. Some have speculated that the Hawks could be that opponent, with the Philadelphia Flyers being another possibility.
Even if the Hawks don’t play in that game, there are still the Stadium Series games to consider. The NHL likely won’t have the Blackhawks host another contest the year after holding one at Soldier Field (sorry U.S. Cellular Field), but having the Hawks as the visitors on the scoreboard guarantees plenty of eye-balls on television screens, and that means more money into NHL coffers.
So which stadiums and teams would be ideal settings for the Blackhawks if they are going to be asked to play outdoors again next season? Here are some possibilities:
Blackhawks vs. Blues, Busch Stadium
The Blackhawks’ rivalry with the Blues is one of the most intense in the NHL, and it has been made even more interesting as the Blues have built a team that is a viable Stanley Cup contender.
Loaded with star players on their blue line like Alex Pietrangelo, and with a scoring attack led by Alex Steen and David Backes, the Blues are a team that matches up well with the Blackhawks, and a matchup between the two squads in the Gateway City could be a fascinating one for TV audiences.
Blackhawks vs. Wild, TCF Bank Stadium
Among hardcore hockey fans, a matchup between the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars on an outdoor stage would be a dream come true. Unfortunately for both sides, the league doesn’t have much use for sentimentality (exhibit A: splitting the Red Wings and Blackhawks into separate conferences), so a likely ratings dud like a Wild-Stars game isn’t a likely game.
On the other hand, trying to foster a rivalry between new Central Division foes could be just what the doctor ordered to bring an outdoor game to the State of Hockey. Having the Wild and Blackhawks do battle at the University of Minnesota’s football stadium would not only be an outstanding spectacle, but would also go a long way to generating some vitriol between the two squads.
Red Wings vs. Blackhawks, Notre Dame Stadium
With the Hawks’ close ties to Notre Dame (GM Stan Bowman attended the school, and the team held training camp practices there last year), and with the school’s close proximity to both Detroit and Chicago, this could be the perfect reason to host a game in another iconic venue.
The two teams have met in an outdoor game once before, the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field, but the circumstances for a matchup next season would be a lot different. The Blackhawks are now the dominant team in the NHL, and the Red Wings are slowly trying to restructure their team in an effort to maintain their incredible playoff streak.
Having the two teams do battle in South Bend would be a perfect ratings matchup for the NHL, and would also capitalize on NBC’s strong relationship with Notre Dame.