Why There Won’t Be A “Stadium Series” In The NHL Playoffs

Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

File this idea under “crazy ideas we would love to see”: outdoor NHL playoff games. Imagine the atmosphere of the Winter Classic, with its 40,000-ish fans in attendance, during a game that mattered much more than a mid-regular season matchup. Also, it would be at least a few degrees warmer.

Hockey fans go hard. It’s not hard to imagine the atmosphere being close to that of an NFL playoff game and all its glory. Even if you’re not totally on board with the idea, admit this is the type of thing you’d definitely want to see at least once.

Unfortunately, the logistics of holding an outdoor game just would not make sense for the NHL playoffs. First and foremost, these outdoor games take a lot of preparation. We’re not just talking about the logistics of selling tickets and getting broadcast ready, but an NHL ice rink doesn’t just spring up overnight. The ice-making equipment and trucks typically show up about a week in advance. At that point, first-round matchups and exactly who has home-ice advantage could still be a work in progress.

The NHL loves bringing the game outside with events such as the Winter Classic and Stadium Series. Will they ever consider bringing a playoff game outdoors?

Selling tickets could be a bit of a challenge as well. While most NHL outdoor games play to sold-out crowds, having ticket inventory that could be more than double of normal capacity could mean seats go unsold. If anything less than a handful of seats are empty, it’s a bad look for the league and makes the outdoor playoff game experiment look like an immediate failure. You thought empty seats at an Arizona Coyotes game were bad? Imagine if it was a much-hyped game on a national stage.

Then there are problem finding a venue. Out of the 26 regular-season outdoor games that have taken place in the United States with fans (Canadian outdoor games, exhibition games, and the fan-less Lake Tahoe game are excluded) 11 have been held at Major League Baseball stadiums. With baseball in season during the NHL playoffs, that means the choice of venues decreases. Sure NFL stadiums might be available, but that means more tickets to sell and might lead back to our previously mentioned problem.

That’s not even mentioning weather. Snow and the cold temperatures we see during winter outdoor games make for great theater for the game of hockey, but spring thunderstorms are a different story. Previous outdoor games have been postponed for rain as well as sunlight which could potentially reflect off the ice. April showers may bring May flowers, but they don’t go along well with NHL playoff hockey.

With the NHL expanding their outdoor games and gaining media market share, it’s just a matter of time before the league itself comes up with the idea. Maybe one day it will happen. If you have a team that you’re pretty sure will have home ice advantage (think of the regular season dominance the Tampa Bay Lightning had in 2018-2019) and you have a venue that will be certain will be available, why not give it a go? Until then playoff hockey will stay indoors.