Due to their Stanley Cup run in 2017, and other recent success, the Nashville Predators are rapidly expanding their brand. But what about being in the NHL Winter Classic?
The Nashville Predators are with over half of the other teams in the league who have never played in the NHL Winter Classic, which started in 2008. It’s a great event that usually caters to the classic NHL franchises that have large fanbases that scatter all across the country.
This annual event is extremely important for the NHL in terms of gaining more fans and pulling in further the casual hockey fan who tends to only watch their favorite team. The 2019 version can be considered a huge success despite it featuring a last-place team.
The Blackhawks, who are in last place in the Central Division, squared off against the Bruins. The game was played at the historic Notre Dame Stadium and brought in outstanding results all across the board. The game yielded the best television ratings since 2015, and the attendance of over 76,000 is the second-most in NHL history for a regular season game.
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You better believe the NHL will learn from this successful event and try to mimic it for future sites. Where does that leave the teams who have yet to be featured in the game, like the Nashville Predators?
What hurts the Predators
The biggest factor working against the Predators is something that no one can really control. They’re not a classic, historical hockey franchise. The Predators franchise is just reaching two decades old and is trying to build a legacy of its own. That takes decades of winning not just playoff games, but Stanley Cups. The NHL seems to want to reserve these outdoor games for the historical franchises and the Original Six.
Look at the teams that have already played multiple times. Teams like the Blackhawks, Red Wings, Bruins, Penguins and the Rangers have fanbases spread worldwide and come from large markets. The Predators come from a small market in comparison to the teams that have already been featured. It’s a moderate risk for the NHL to leave their storied teams out of the game for a franchise that doesn’t have as rich of history.
Weather in Nashville, even in January, is wildly unpredictable. Although uncommon, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see mild temperatures in January. No one really perceives Nashville as a “wintry” city, which is the illustration you want to show when featuring an outdoor game to the masses. The last thing the NHL wants is the Winter Classic being featured on NBC with the temperature at a balmy 60 degrees.
There is one other issue that complicates things further for Nashville hosting the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day and that’s the Music City Bowl held at Nissan Stadium. There’s no other venue to hold the game, so a lot of creativity will have to be brought to the table to schedule an outdoor hockey game shortly after a football game.
What helps the Predators
Let’s go to the other side of the argument. For one thing, most people have come to realize that the Predators are a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup for the foreseeable future. Even the haters realize how good they are and that they’re built to last for the next few years. You’re not going to find a more deserving team to be next up in the game out of the teams that haven’t been selected. They check all of the boxes, aside from geography and team history.
Nashville as a city has already proven they can host big events and be successful. Just go back and look at how successful the 2016 NHL All-Star Game was. The ability to host the event isn’t the slightest of an issue. We know the Nashville faithful will show up in large forces to Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans. The opposing fans are never shy about showing up to Nashville, either.
The Predators lacked an abundance of elite superstars for years and years. Even when consistently going to the playoffs, their rosters were largely made up of blue collar guys that the average fan never heard of. That’s no longer the case as the Predators are full of young stars like Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson. They also have some respected veterans like P.K. Subban and Ryan Johansen. And of course, you have an elite goaltender in Pekka Rinne. All of these players move the needle and give the NHL a reason to feature them in an outdoor game.
The most recent team to be announced in the NHL Winter Classic is the Dallas Stars in 2020. That will be at the Cotton Bowl, and it’s a perfect scenario for the Predators to become the opponent. It’s an intriguing matchup for the NHL as they can feature two “Southern” teams that both have an abundance of offensive weapons. It would be the first appearance for both teams. Furthermore, the massive market size of Dallas seems to outweigh the possibility of mild weather in a Southern state.
The Predators will probably have to wait a while to see an outdoor game played in Nashville, but the possibility of being featured in the game as the road team in 2020 against Dallas is perceivable. It makes perfect sense to me, but I won’t be surprised in the slightest if the NHL goes another direction. However, it’s not as far-fetched as it was just a couple years ago.