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What We Learned: Does the NHL really need more outdoor games?

Getty ImagesHello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

Lost in all the justifiable hullabaloo about the NHL and NHLPA's new and improved and surprisingly reasonable conference realignment plans last night was a report from The Fourth Period that made me want to scream.

To summarize: The NHL will hold this season's canceled Winter Classic between Toronto and Detroit next year, but is also interested in adding games at Yankee and Dodger Stadiums, seemingly to be played over the course of a few weeks following the game in Ann Arbor. Further, the League might also bring back the Heritage Classic for next season as well, perhaps played in either Vancouver or Edmonton, and presumably serving as the dessert for the main course of the Wings/Leafs game.

Now, this should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who has been paying even the slightest bit of attention. Financial experts' estimates show the NHL cost itself $328.2 million in "brand value" because of the lockout. One great way to recoup those losses is to have a whole bunch of outdoor games that make the league a real lot of money in what are, not coincidentally I'm sure, the two biggest U.S. media markets.

Obviously Yankee Stadium and Dodger Stadium don't seat nearly as many people as the Big House, but games involving, say, the Rangers and Penguins or Kings and Sharks on those stages will make the league a silly amount of money. Same goes for Vancouver hosting Montreal, or whomever, up in Canada.

Gary Bettman can spend that entire few weeks rolling around in the giant piles of money the NHL will make from ticket sales, sponsorships, TV ad revenue, and merchandise sales, and no one could blame him even a little bit. It would be a huge deal for the league, and not just monetarily. In theory, all those markets would be absolutely tickled to get outdoor games of their own, and because of their size of those markets and the relative novelty of outdoor games being played there, it could charge whatever it wanted for tickets, and people would pay it.

On the other hand, this plan is awful and shouldn't be allowed to happen.

It's not new information that the league would love to milk the Winter Classic and Heritage Classic and whatever it's going to call these two additional games, but at some point they stop being "Classic" and start being as uninteresting as the games themselves have so often been.

Again, the hockey in these outdoor games is bad, and while it's a ratings bonanza for the league and NBC and they sell a million tickets, at some point people are just going to tune them out. That point might be, "When the league has four of them within about a month of each other." Fans can get up for two outdoor games in a season, apparently. Especially if they're played on opposite sides of the continent in two different countries.

But with four such games? It all gets to be a little much.

Casual sports fans, whom these games are ostensibly supposed to draw in, likely do not have the mental capacity to care that much about hockey games played without the benefit of a roof. I'm pretty sure I don't.

And then there's the whole logistical issue of getting these taken care of with the Olympics looming. I seem to recall that the reason the Heritage Classic was played almost two months after the Winter Classic in 2011 was that the league wanted to make sure it had all its ducks in a row with regard to getting those games prepared and marketed as well as possible wrapped around the All-Star Game.

So the league's options are apparently these: The Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2014. Then the Heritage Classic a short time after that. Then either hold the other two games before the Olympics, which begin on Feb. 8 — and which would therefore require packing four outdoor games into five weeks — or after their conclusion on Feb. 23.

It makes more sense to have those games played after the break, as a celebration of the NHL's return from the Olympics, which always helps to boost interest in the sport anyway, at least for a little while. But you're also pushing those games into being as late as March; that's a little too deep into the season and playoff races to be wasting time on the gimmickry and media circus outdoor contests. Imagine telling John Tortorella, who openly hated going through the Philadelphia Winter Classic, that he has to do that again in the middle of a playoff run? That wouldn't go over so well.

The reason people like the Winter Classic is that it's special, and relatively rare. I've written before that the amount of non-NHL outdoor games is growing absurd; there have been six in North America alone so far in 2013.

At some point, none of this is special; and frankly this reeks as even more of a cash grab than the Winter Classic usually is. And that's saying something.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Here's a column in praise of Viktor Fasth's lack of a temper. Winning your first eight decisions in the NHL is a good way to keep one's head, though.

Boston Bruins: The Bruins (and assuredly most other playoff teams) would really like to get a goalscorer for the stretch run. And here's a name beyond Daniel Alfredsson that's apparently kicking around out there: Michael Ryder. Good luck with that one, guys.

Buffalo Sabres: Hmm, it seems Lindy Ruff wasn't the Sabres' only problem because the team still stinks. Things are so bad even Ville Leino, a symbol for everything wrong with the Sabres over the last two seasons, is calling out his teammates. Well, you're not really capable of it as currently constituted, so let's just get to the offseason, fire Darcy Regier and blow it all up.

Calgary Flames: You know things aren't going well in Minnesota when you're not only losing to Calgary, but also having Matt Stajan of all people score two against you.

Carolina Hurricanes: Ugly, wild third period in Raleigh, in which the Hurricanes gave up four goals to the Lightning in the final 20 and only scored two. But hey it's not like this was an important game or anything against an opponent who overtook the division lead on the road or anything.

Chicago Blackhawks: Someone finally found something wrong with the Blackhawks. Thank god. Do you believe these bums have the nerve to deprive fantasy owners of points from other teams' top players? What a bunch of jerks, for real.

Colorado Avalanche: Gabriel Landeskog finally returned to the Avs lineup after missing 11 games with a concussion and seemed totally fine. The Avalanche themselves not so much, though. The Kings crushed 'em 4-1, which was about as predictable a result as there was on the weekend.

Columbus Blue Jackets: This was my favorite headline of the weekend by far: "Jackets can become first team to beat Chicago." Lots of things can happen out there. Jonathan Toews might explode too.

Dallas Stars: Here's Jamie Benn capping a Gordie Howe hat trick that included a fight with Joe Thornton. That kid's gonna go places in this league.

Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: You're not going to believe this but the Red Wings are really happy they'll be moving to the Eastern Conference. "It'd be unbelievable," Jimmy Howard said, tears presumably streaming down his face. "The travel takes years off of all our lives."

Edmonton Oilers: Can we talk for a second about how unbelievable Sam Gagner has been for the Oilers this season? Of all the guys on that team you thought would be playing point-a-game hockey, this guy probably wouldn't hit your top four or five. And when I say point-a-game, I mean it almost literally. He's been held off the score sheet just twice this season.

Florida Panthers: Seems there's a goaltending logjam in Florida involving the team's two journeymen and their upstart super-prospect. Who could have seen this coming, besides everyone?

Los Angeles Kings: Don't everyone all look at once but the Kings have now won three in a row and are slowly climbing steadily back into the playoff discussion out west. They’re 10th, one point out of the No. 8 seed.

Minnesota Wild: Zach Parise still believes the Wild are a playoff team. Remember when people thought getting him and Ryan Suter on board would make them Cup contenders overnight? Yeah it was like three months ago.

Montreal Canadiens: Man, the Habs are playing well. Not only did they shut out the Rangers, but they only allowed 17 shots in doing so. Fourth time in the last five games they've given up fewer than 20, and that's a crazy stat right there.

Nashville Predators: The Preds are losers of four of their last five, and have now been shut out twice in a row. Somehow, they still have more goals than Minnesota.

New Jersey Devils: After a 3-2 win on Thursday, Pete DeBoer continued to tinker with his lines in the final two periods against Washington on Saturday. That resulted in a third-period meltdown and a 5-1 loss. So maybe don't go messing around like that.

New York Islanders: Hey, this Michael Grabner kid is alright.

New York Rangers: Dan Girardi took a puck off the foot trying (successfully, I guess) to block a PK Subban one-timer. X-rays were negative, but you can't imagine Girardi missing time is good for anyone at all.

Ottawa Senators: All these injuries seem not to be affecting the Senators nearly as much as anyone thought, or really as much as they should. Or put another, more accurate way, all these injuries somehow haven't caught up with the Senators somehow.

Philadelphia Flyers: Speaking of Gordie Howe hat tricks as we were earlier, Wayne Simmonds now has two in the last week. It's all good as long as they keep winning, right?

Phoenix Coyotes: Today is Day No. 199 since Jude LaCava of Fox 10 in Arizona said Greg Jamison would have the deal for the Coyotes sewn up within the next five days. And also, here's a great tag-team double-save effort by Mike Smith and Keith Yandle.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins with Sid Crosby in the lineup but without Evgeni Malkin are just 17-12-1. Hard to believe it's been so few given Malkin's having missed 61 games over the last three seasons, but concussions and whatever.

San Jose Sharks: Todd McLellan is officially on the hot seat. Replace him with Lindy Ruff!

St. Louis Blues: Jaroslav Halak is back and officially ready to make the Blues' goaltending situation less of a disaster. Well, he hopes so anyway.

Tampa Bay Lightning: This list of Lightning first-rounders from 1999 to 2007 (of which there were only five) shouldn't exactly fill Flames fans with hope for the Jay Feaster years. Feaster's predecessor drafted Nikita Alexeev and Alexander Svitov in 2000 and 2001, respectively, then the man himself took Andy Rogers, Vladimir Mihalik and Riku Helenius in 2004 through 2006. Not good.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Sure the Leafs lost that game in Ottawa on Saturday, but at least their fans stuck it to Eugene Melnyk and the Sens organization by showing up to Scotiabank Place after they were specifically asked not to do so. Very inconsiderate.

Vancouver Canucks: Say it turns out this Roberto Luongo guy is pretty good and everyone likes him again. So weird.

Washington Capitals: Here it is in real life and everything: Alex Ovechkin getting a hat trick in 2013. It was his first without an empty-netter since Feb. 7, 2010. I can't believe that either.

Winnipeg Jets: I love so dearly the fact that a column about the Jets giving up three goals in the third period in a road loss to the Flyers leads off with, "Truth be told, the Winnipeg Jets had a legitimate right to bitch about the officiating…" I mean, that's just wonderful. And I don't just mean The B-Word getting into the first 12 words of a story.

Play of the Weekend

Pretty good diving-falling-backwards-reaching-behind-him stick save by Denver goaltender Juho Olkinuora on North Dakota's Corban Knight from Friday. He would have covered it as well, but his teammate swatted it away at the last second.

Gold Star Award

Getty ImagesYup, it's Alex Ovechkin, who doubled his goal total for the season in a single game.

Minus of the Weekend

Getty ImagesYou know the Sabres are in tough here when Terry Pegula's daughter goes on Twitter and says they're "just really bad." Not that she's wrong or anything.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User "nEaLB4ZoD" is about as rational as his name suggests.

"Ovechkin to Buffalo
for Myers and Pominville"

That's real.

Signoff

Education is the sleeping pill that dreams are made of.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness almost never over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don’t you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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