Sure, the 2011 Winter Classic hasn’t happened yet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about the next one.  According to a post on NHL Fanhouse, Yankee Stadium is out and Citi Field and New Meadowlands Stadium are both options for 2012.  That means that there’s a good chance that the game will be in the New York or New Jersey area.

So it looks like the next Classic could feature the Islanders, Devils and possibly the Rangers.

Is that a good choice?

Sure, New York is a huge market and ratings for the game would likely be quite high, but the Devils and the Islanders aren’t exactly the best on-ice product to present to the fans.  A Rangers/Devils game or a Rangers/Islanders game would have a lot of hype and history behind it, but it could also feature at least one team that is struggling near the bottom of the NHL.

Does that matter?

Is anyone watching the Winter Classic expecting a good hockey game?  Or are people watching for the atmosphere and the history and the rivalries?

The first Winter Classic in Buffalo was pretty awful from a hockey standpoint.  The ice was uneven, there were frequent stoppages in play to remove snow and there was little to no flow to the game.  The event, however, was deemed a huge success and it became an annual event.

As bad as the hockey was that day, the game looked amazing.  The atmosphere was great and the falling snow made the entire game look unique and special.  No one really cared that the product on the ice was barely passable.

Showcasing rivalries like Red Wings/Blackhawks, Penguins/Capitals and possibly some incarnation of Rangers/Islanders/Devils is a good idea as well.  However, The Penguins and the Sabres are barely rivals at all, and yet their contest was certainly memorable.  So that shows us that the atmosphere of the game matters a great deal as well.  It’s the selling point.

A game in New York, especially one featuring two New York area teams, would definitely have that atmosphere.

So it seems like having a big rivalry in a huge market play out in next year’s Winter Classic could be incredibly successful, regardless of whether or not the teams itself are any good.