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The Blue Jackets aren’t getting a Winter Classic. How about the Stadium Series?

With Washington and Carolina playing in the Stadium Series Saturday, let’s look at options for Columbus to get in on the action.

2020 Navy Federal Credit Union NHL Stadium Series - Los Angeles Kings v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

I realized something recently. The Columbus Blue Jackets will never be in the Winter Classic.

There’s three reasons for this, two of which are brought to you by Ohio State football. The main reason is that Ohio State sees no need to properly winterize the Horseshoe, which might help for an event called the Winter Classic. Now, this may change with an expanded College Football Playoff, but early indications are that Gene Smith and co. would rather use Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Alright, so the Horseshoe is a no-go. How about a road game? That’s even more laughable. Everyone else in the Metro hates each other way more than Columbus. Detroit would rather play Toronto, Chicago, or Colorado over the CBJ. Old Central division frenemies Chicago and St. Louis have more natural rivals in the new Central. Even Buffalo, our most hated rivals, would rather play Pittsburgh, Toronto, or the Rangers. If you want any further evidence of this, look to the two most recent Stadium Series matchups; Nashville and Carolina. They’re probably the two most likely teams for Columbus to have played on the road, with no real natural rivals and some history with the Jackets. But the NHL went with Tampa and Washington, two more established, more successful teams.

The final nail in the coffin goes back to Ohio State. The Buckeyes just too big of a brand and too good of a team. If they’re not in the College Football Playoff, they’ll be in the Rose Bowl, and if not the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl. And if they somehow miss the New Years Six entirely, the Buckeye faithful will still travel to whatever bowl game they do make, and assuming it’s anywhere from December 30th through January 3rd, they’ll miss any outdoor game for OSU football. For all intents and purposes, it’s practically pro football, and it’s the same reason why the NHL pushes the Winter Classic to January 2nd if the 1st is a Sunday; because going against football is ratings and attendance suicide.

Which brings us back to the Stadium Series.

Introduced in 2014, the Stadium Series is typically played later in the season, often either the last weekend in February or the first weekend in March. They also typically feature newer, less established teams, like the Hurricanes, Lightning, Predators, Avalanche, and California trio. The Columbus Blue Jackets fit in much more with those names than the Blackhawks, Red Wings, Bruins, and Penguins that dominate the Winter Classics.

It also pulls away from competition with OSU football and the NFL. In fact, the only possible local competition would be the Columbus Crew, but even that could be avoided by a February date.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at some potential host stadiums, and see if we can find a match. First, several reasonable options, before we get weird with it.

Ohio Stadium (Horseshoe)

Location: Columbus, Ohio
Built: 1922
Capacity: 104,944
Main Tenant: Ohio State University
Probable Opponent: Anyone

This has always been the obvious choice for a Blue Jackets outdoor game, but by moving the event to February/March, a lot of logistical issues are solved. No competition from Buckeye football, the game could feasibly be as late as March 9th to avoid winterization concerns, and the spectacle of the Horseshoe and a potential run at the NHL attendance record are preserved. The main issue, as always, is Ohio State’s cooperation. Would they be willing to let their gem be used by another team, their competition? I would hope cooler heads would prevail, but I’m not holding out. Field

Location: Columbus, Ohio
Built: 2021
Capacity: 20,371
Main Tenant: Columbus Crew
Probable Opponent: Anyone

On the other side of the spectacle chart, there’s Field. Now, it’s a world class stadium with a great atmosphere, but it is on the small side. With a capacity of 20,371, even a sellout would fall almost 6,000 seats short of the next smallest outdoor game, and be only two-thirds the size of the least-attended Stadium Series matchup. Hell, it’d only be few hundred more than a standard game at NWA. And the Nordecke, while a blast during Crew games, would force a whole side of the field to be standing the whole game. Historic Crew Stadium has the same problem, with a capacity of 19,968, has the same problems while being 22 years older. It just isn’t a possiblility.

First Energy Stadium

Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Built: 1999
Capacity: 67,895
Main Tenant: Cleveland Browns
Probable Opponent: Pittsburgh or Detroit

If you ask me, if the Blue Jackets host the 2024 Stadium Series, First Energy Stadium is the most likely venue. Why? Because both Ohio State men’s hockey and the Cleveland Monsters are hosting outdoor games there this season, on February 18th and March 4th, respectively. I could easily see these being litmus tests for a potential NHL outdoor game in the very near future. The downside? It wouldn’t be in Columbus, and Jackets fans aren’t exactly the most well-traveled. I could see the NHL being very hesitant to have the Jackets move outside Columbus.

Paycor Stadium

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Built: 2000
Capacity: 65,535
Main Tenant: Cincinnati Bengals
Probable Opponent: Nashville Predators

The remaining big football stadium in Ohio is Paycor Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals. The main issue with playing in Cincinnati is that it’s an even bigger risk than playing in Cleveland. While Cleveland had NHL and WHA teams in the 1970s, and the Monsters since 2007, Cincinnati has comparatively little hockey history. In addition while Yinzers and Detroiters would likely make the trek to Cleveland for the Penguins or Red Wings, asking Nashvillians to drive four hours to Cincy is a bit less certain. It’d be a cool opportunity to grow the game, but that may not be enough to cover the uncertainty.

Progressive Field

Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Built: 1994
Capacity: 35,041
Main Tenant: Cleveland Guardians
Probable Opponent: Pittsburgh or Detroit

If the NHL is worried about being able to fill out an NFL stadium with the Blue Jackets, look to Progressive Field as the likely alternative. Home of the InGuardians, it’s 35,041 seat capacity does put it on the smaller end of venues to host outdoor games, especially for the Stadium Series, but it’s well within the realm of possibility. The downside is that it’s, well, a baseball stadium. They’re just not built for NHL sightlines. You could either have the rink centered in the diamond, line the NHL’s done historically, which leaves everyone a smidge uncomfortable, or put it on one of the foul lines, which the NHL did for this season’s Winter Classic, letting one stretch of seats get great views, while the rest are kinda screwed over. Football stadiums are just built a lot better for NHL games than baseball fields, but if they want to play it conservative, and the Shoe isn’t an option, Progressive Field could make sense.

Lucas Oil Stadium

Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Built: 2008
Capacity: 70,000
Main Tenant: Indianapolis Colts
Probable Opponent: Chicago Blackhawks

Alright, time to get weird. If Cincinnati is a stretch, having a game in Indianapolis is just plain crazy. At least, it is if the Jackets are the home team. If you have the Blackhawks as the main draw, the 70,000 capacity suddenly seems a lot more feasible. Chicago hasn’t been in a Stadium Series since 2016, and haven’t been outdoors at all since 2019, so you know the NHL is dying to get them back in the action. Throw in the fact that Ohioans are used to making the trek into the Hoosier state for the Big Ten’s football championship game, and this suddenly looks like a real option, with potential to grow the game in a new market.

Milan Puskar Stadium

Location: Morgantown, West Virginia
Built: 1980
Capacity: 60,000
Main Tenant: West Virginia University
Probable Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins

If Lucas Oil Stadium is weird, Milan Puskar Stadium is really weird. West Virginia University is a lot closer to Pittsburgh than Columbus, but it’s one of the few locations where the Blue Jackets make sense as the logical opponent for a Penguins-hosted outdoor game. Aside from that? Yeah, there’s no chance this happens.

Michie Stadium

Location: West Point, New York
Built: 1924
Capacity: 38,000
Main Tenant: US Military Academy
Probable Opponent: New York Rangers

This is the only true road game where the Blue Jackets make sense as the visitor. The NHL had been going on a tour of the Service Academies prior to the Covid outbreak, visiting Navy in 2018 and Air Force in 2020. Why not complete the trifecta with Army’s Michie Stadium? And why not feature a military-inspired team in a military-hosted game? Sure the Panthers and Golden Knights are more successful teams that also use military branding, but Florida just hosted the All Star Game and Vegas is slated to visit Seattle in the 2024 Winter Classic. They’re all booked, so unless the NHL is willing to wait a few years to finish the circuit and play in the most historic of the Service Academies’ stadiums, the Blue Jackets are the logical choice.

Or they could just ignore us and use the Flyers or something.