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UPDATED: Improving the Winter Classic

The Winter Classic – the most-watched regular season hockey game in 36 years – sure was fun, wasn’t it? Jeff Z. Klein, who was there, thinks so. But he also has some suggestions for improving what’s rapidly becoming the best part of the NHL calendar.

And go: “Rangers at Leafs, Rogers Centre, roof open, CN Tower looming overhead, day or night. The biggest city in the United States vs. the biggest city in Canada, staged at the biggest site in what is the de facto world capital of hockey.”

There are a couple problems with this suggestion, some which Klien addresses and some which he doesn’t. The biggest issue that goes unresolved is the issue of television ratings. The author notes that NBC is scared a Canadian-based game would harm American television ratings. He explains this away by writing, “But Americans skittish about words like “Ottawa” and “Edmonton” are used to Toronto after years of watching the baseball Blue Jays and basketball Raptors. It is the one Canadian city Americans know and may not feel flustered by.”

Which is fine, but it’s not the issue.The problem is that NBC counts on a boost from local markets to help improve ratings. The 2011 game earned huge viewership in Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. It drew a massive 32 rating in the former city, and the nation’s capital checked in as the No. 2 market. A game between the New York Rangers and the Toronto Maple Leafs wouldn’t do well in the United States because of New York’s hockey apathy combined with Toronto’s location in, well, Canada.

It’s a nice thought – and it’s a shame Canada can’t get a team in the Winter Classic – but it’s just not going to happen soon.

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