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Mario Lemieux. Paul Coffey. Ron Francis. Bryan Trottier. Larry Murphy. Gary Roberts(notes). Peter Bondra. Yvon Labre. Playing outdoor hockey inside of an NFL stadium.

Sort of seems like a big deal, right? Hell, it could be Mario skating through the all-star skills competition for a half hour and it'd still be a major moment for nostalgic NHL fans.

Which is why the NHL's handling of the Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins alumni game on Dec. 31, over 24 hours before the Caps and Pens face off in the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field, is coming under some fire.

The alumni game begins at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 31, before the first official practice for the current incarnations of the teams -- but it won't be televised live on NHL Network.

Instead, the NHL told us it will stream live on NHL.com while the NHL Network films the game for a one-hour special on Jan. 5 featuring mic'd up players. Highlights from the game will be seen later in the day on NHL Network on Jan. 31.

This has not made Seth Rorabaugh of Empty Netter a happy man:

Leave it to the NHL to completely drop the ball with this.

Based on the e-mails, tweets, etc we're getting on this, the alumni game might be nearly as popular as the actual Winter Classic. Yet, the NHL can't be based to cut a few episodes of  "On the Fly" to broadcast this live? And while the practices at Heinz Field certainly merit some live coverage, what would you rather see? NHL Network's Gary Green lobbing softball questions to Sidney Crosby(notes)? Or the Mario Lemieux-Kevin Stevens-Rick Tocchet line being re-united?

Uh, Option B, please.

In fairness, the alumni game was a Penguins initiative that the NHL is fitting into the grander Winter Classic scheme. And the fact that the NHL is turning this into a TV special is a keen idea: Action on the ice intercut with classic footage and alumni interviews. As hockey entertainment, this contest will likely have the pace of a mites-on-ice intermission game at the arena. So to do it like this, as the CBC did for the Heritage Classic during a Wayne Gretzky retrospective, works:

(Of course, having that Oilers/Habs game as an opening act for the actual game was also an incredible idea that should have been repeated.)

To not have this thing live on television is a frustrating choice. One assumes it's intended to juice NHL.com traffic. Which, based on the interest from Penguins fans, it appears it will.

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