Above the 49: Heritage Classic concept might have run its course

The NHL finally got down to the business of confirming that the 2014 NHL Heritage Classic - part of their Stadium Series of outdoor games in the 2013-14 - will be taking at BC Place in Vancouver featuring the hometown Canucks and the Ottawa Senators.

It was an announcement that, while coming as no surprise considering it had been all-but-confirmed by media members north of the border, came with surprisingly little fanfare.

Typically when the NHL has an announcement for a major event there is a traveling carnival complete with photo opportunities, special guests and jersey unveilings that go along with it.

That was the case for both the previous Heritage Classic events that were held in Edmonton in 2003 and Calgary in 2011 but was noticeably absent when it came to the official announcement for the Vancouver event in 2014.

Instead, the announcement of the game was reduced to a simple press release from the league office.

This leads one to wonder whether or not the entire concept of the Heritage Classic might have run its course.

Granted, in an upcoming season where the league is planning to hold six outdoor games at five different venues, it might not much sense for the league to make a big fuss over every single one of the planned outdoor contests

But that being said, there should have been a distinction between the Heritage Classic and the rest of the other outdoor games that are part of this series, save for the Winter Classic which is clearly the NHL���s most valuable property and their signature event.

When the NHL resurrected the Heritage Classic in 2011, it was viewed by many as throwing a bone to the Canadian audience in light of the success of the annual Winter Classic and at a time when it appeared that the chances of a Canadian team ever appearing in the Winter Classic would be slim to nil.

But even though the Heritage Classic was still viewed as a "B-event" compared to the Winter Classic, there was still a sense that it had some value because not only was it just one of two outdoor events that the NHL would throw its resources behind, it was designed to be uniquely Canadian and it found a way to pay homage to the history of the game in Canada by bringing back some of the game's past greats to share in the experience.

As a result, it was treated as an event entirely on its own in 2011 when it was played at Calgary���s McMahon Stadium.

But the NHL's lack of pomp and circumstance for the 2014 event seems to suggest that the Heritage Classic is little more than just another outdoor game but with a separate name.

At the same time, looking toward the future, you have to wonder just how long the idea of keeping one outdoor game exclusively between Canadian clubs will continue to be a marketing point.

There are already those suggesting the 2014 game between the Canucks and Senators - two non-traditional rivals - is grasping at straws when it comes to the aspect of drawing on history.

The event will see both teams pay homage to the highly successful franchises that existed in their respective cities during the early part of the 20th century - the Vancouver Millionaires (later Maroons) of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and the Ottawa Senators of the National Hockey Association - teams which happened to cross paths to battle for the Stanley Cup in 1915, 1921 and 1923.

The Canucks have owned the Millionaires trademark since 2010 and, this past season, paid tribute to the 1915 Stanley Cup champions by donning their uniforms in a game against the Red Wings.

As nostalgic as it would be to hark back to that era for fans of both the Canucks and Senators, you'd have to wonder if Vancouver fans might be more open to the idea of an outdoor game against a team like the Chicago Blackhawks or the Boston Bruins, teams that they have had a much more recent rivalry with.

Hosting a game against a more contemporary rival as opposed to a historic one is probably at the top of the wish list for any Canadian team - save for perhaps the Montreal Canadiens or Toronto Maple Leafs - that is interested in hosting a future outdoor game especially if that translates into stronger ticket sales.

The fact that fans in Vancouver, and in all the cities that will be hosting an outdoor game this upcoming season, will undoubtedly be flocking for tickets and willing to shell out their hard-earned money to soak up the entire experience demonstrates that the outdoor game concept itself is still a big seller.

But as far as the Heritage Classic concept itself, it might just be time to finally put that to rest.