During the 2020 Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed the Minnesota Wild will be hosting the 2021 Winter Classic at Target Field. But who will they be facing?
After a year deep in the heart of Texas, the 2021 Winter Classic will be heading up north to The State Of Hockey. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed during the 2020 Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl that the Minnesota Wild will be getting their first Winter Classic in 2021.
An outdoor game in The State Of Hockey should be a ton of fun. However, there’s one problem – we don’t know who the Minnesota Wild will be facing yet. That said, there have been several potential opponents leaked via NHL insiders. Let’s take a look at those teams and break down who the best opponent would be.
4. Chicago Blackhawks
Chris Johnston is reporting the Chicago Blackhawks, along with the Blues and the Avalanche, are among the teams being considered.
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There’s nothing the NHL loves more than having the Chicago Blackhawks in outdoor games. No team has played in more outdoor games (6) than them. As painful as it is to see the Blackhawks in so many outdoor games, it’s hard to argue with the NHL’s logic.
Chicago is one of the largest markets in America. They’re one of the league’s most successful franchises, even if they haven’t made the postseason in several years.
We’ve already seen this matchup in an outdoor game. Granted, it wasn’t at a Winter Classic, as it was a Stadium Series game. But still, that was in 2016. A Blackhawks versus Wild might well be what the NHL wants, but it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
Also, I’m pretty sure the Blackhawks are running out of ideas for outdoor game jerseys. It’s been going downhill for a while now and their latest one (2016) was, frankly, lazy. Plus, let’s not kid ourselves, nobody wants to see the Blackhawks in another outdoor game. Not even Blackhawks fans!
3. Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets, according to Chris Johnston, are among the teams being considered. This was confirmed by Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.
Location wise, it makes sense. Winnipeg isn’t too far from Minnesota, which would encourage Jets fans to come to the game. It was great seeing so many Predators fans make the trip to Dallas and it would be nice to have that kind of atmosphere again in 2021.
The Jets are a Central Division rival of the Wild, so that’s another reason why they would make sense. If the NHL wants to put some of their best players on the spotlight, the Jets are full of talented players. Their roster includes the likes of Mark Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck, and Patrik Laine.
It’s also worth pointing out while the Jets have played in two outdoor games (2016 Heritage Classic and 2019 Heritage Classic), they’ve never been involved in a Winter Classic.
The Jets simply aren’t going to do much as far as ratings. Let’s face it, the Winter Classic is the NHL’s golden child. They want to set it up to have success. There would be more interesting matchups than the Jets versus the Wild.
2. Colorado Avalanche
Much like the Jets, the Colorado Avalanche aren’t too far away from Minnesota. It’s actually a little bit closer than Winnipeg is. The travel would pretty well for them and it wouldn’t require a lengthy trip.
Also, the Avalanche seem overdue for a Winter Classic. They had a Stadium Series game at Coors Field in 2016 against the Detroit Red Wings and they’ll be hosting the LA Kings this year at the Air Force Academy. But the Avalanche have never been involved in a Winter Classic, which is slightly surprising.
The biggest reason, though, is the NHL should want to feature the Avalanche. They’re a young, fast, exciting team. Predicting how teams will do in the future can be a bit tricky, but barring something unforeseen, the Avalanche are going to be Stanley Cup contenders during the 2020-21 season.
As I said earlier, the Avalanche will have hosted two outdoor games after this season. For some reason, the NHL seems to not like having teams in outdoor games in consecutive years unless they’re a big-market team like the Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, or Philadelphia Flyers. As great as the Avalanche are, they aren’t quite there yet.
1. St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues and Wild have quite the rivalry. It’s been heated over the past decade, as both teams have eliminated the other in recent postseason series. The Blues also make a ton of sense geographically. Their fans always travel well and it’s not that bad of a trip up to Minnesota.
Also, the Blues are a team the NHL likes to put on the big stage. They haven’t been in an outdoor game since they hosted the Blackhawks in the 2017 Winter Classic. Considering how popular the Blues are, that’s surprising.
The Blues are also not short on stars. Not only do they have Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Jordan Binnington, but they’ve got a bunch of other great players as well, even if team captain Alex Pietrangelo decides to leave in free agency.
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There are none. The Blues make all the sense in the world to be the Minnesota Wild’s Winter Classic opponent. That said, watch them throw the Blackhawks in yet again. But considering the Hawks have only won one of the six outdoor games, maybe that would be a good thing for the Minnesota Wild!