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2021 Winter Classic: The Minnesota Wild should be matched up with fellow expansion team Columbus Blue Jackets

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Columbus Blue Jackets v Minnesota Wild

Yesterday at the 2020 Winter Classic, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the 2021 Winter Classic would be held at Target Field and hosted by the Minnesota Wild.

With this announcement, the Wild are likely to draw a western conference opponent, either the St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, or maybe the Colorado Avalanche. But there is another option for who the team should face, one that has never been highlighted in an outdoor game: the Wild’s expansion mates, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Wild have played in one outdoor game, a 2016 Stadium Series game at TCF Bank Stadium that featured the visiting Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild won that game 6-1, going up 5-0 before a Patrick Kane goal broke the shutout and Erik Haula put in an empty netter.

The Jackets, as you all know, have never played in an outdoor game. , the Blue Jackets were in the running to host this game.

The Blue Jackets were informed by the NHL in November that they would not be getting the ’21 Winter Classic, sources told The Athletic.

The fact Columbus was involved so deeply into the process is proof of the progress made in attracting one of the sporting world’s premier events and suggests to some that a Winter Classic one day being held in Ohio Stadium is likely, perhaps inevitable.

While it would be nice for Columbus to host the Winter Classic, relations between the team and Ohio State have been icy over the years. Likely any appearance in a Winter Classic will be on the road for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Why not next season? From Day One, these two franchises have been linked.

The Blue Jackets hired Doug MacLean as general manager on February 11, 1998, about two-and-a-half months after he was dismissed as the Florida Panthers’ head coach. MacLean also assumed the title of president shortly thereafter.

The Wild hired former Flames GM Doug Risebrough over a year later, on September 2, 1999.

The rules of the 2000 expansion draft were almost exactly the same as the rules of the 1999 and 1998 expansion drafts. Existing clubs were allowed to protect either up to one goalie, five defencemen and nine forwards or up to two goalies, three defencemen and seven forwards. The Blue Jackets and Wild would alternate selections in a ‘snaking’ pattern (ABBABAAB) and take two players from each of the 26 existing clubs participating in the draft (a total of 52). Neither the Atlanta Thrashers nor the Nashville Predators would participate, being that they had only taken to the ice one and two years before, respectively.

It would only be fitting that the Jackets earned their first outdoor spotlight against their expansion mates. Both teams have seen Marian Gaborik play for them. Both teams have produced stunning playoff upsets. Both teams played in 2016’s Unsustainabowl as the Jackets extended their winning streak to 15.

It is unlikely to happen, but this would be a wonderful matchup for the NHL to showcase two teams that rarely feature on the national landscape. If the NHL wishes to grow the game and highlight a Columbus team that, despite injuries and losses of key personnel is continuing to battle for a playoff spot the year after sweeping the Lightning, there is no better opportunity to do so than the Winter Classic on January 1, 2021.