- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Classic snub for Ovechkin, Capitals

You would think that when a pro league chooses the matchup for its biggest game of the regular season, it would takes pains to include a superstar or two.

Especially when an international, camera-loving, what’ll-he-do-next phenom is available.

Especially when that league is the NHL.

But you would be wrong.

For the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day at Fenway Park, the league had narrowed its choices for the Bruins’ opposition to the Capitals and Flyers. The team Gary Bettman and Co. really wanted was the Caps, but NBC demanded the Flyers because of Philadelphia’s larger TV market.

Let’s see… the Flyers didn’t win a playoff series last season, and their rivalry with the Bruins exited its heyday before most of today’s players were born.

The Caps, meanwhile, were a game away from the conference finals and sport the league’s MVP and one of its best defensemen.

The better choice seems obvious, doesn’t it?

To its credit, the NHL has gotten a lot of things right about this game. Tasked with trumping last year’s success at Wrigley Field, the league landed Fenway Park, which will provide an even better milieu. And the public will be able to skate on the ice for two days before the game. What other league lets the masses ramble out into the area of battle - especially at a such a history-steeped cathedral?

Problem is, the team on the visitors bench will be unrecognizable to anybody but Flyers fans and hockey nuts.

Every hockey fan knows who wears the Caps’ No. 8, however, and lots of people who don’t follow the sport do, too. There’s no better setting for the NHL to feature one of its prize possessions than the follow-up to what SportsBusiness Journal named the sports event of the year. You can just see Ovechkin, wearing a fur cap, darting off the bench in the third period and scoring the winning goal on a one-handed slap shot - and Don Cherry hollering at the whippersnapper.

That kind of a stir is what the NHL needs, and what it is not going to get, on New Year’s Day.

The consolation prize for the Caps might be a November game against the Canadiens at Olympic Stadium, former home of the Washington Nationals franchise. Fenway Park, it is not. While Flyers-Bruins is low on the Rivalry Meter, Caps-Habs doesn’t even register. Since the roof at The Big O hasn’t been retractable for more than a decade now, the game wouldn’t have any open-air mystique. And imagine the rumble of 60,000 people booing “The Star Spangled Banner” (not to mention Ovechkin).

Come to think of it, when it comes to the NHL’s snub of the Caps, that sound says it all.

He said what?

“As I said before, we’re not the farm system for contending teams.” - Orioles president Andy MacPhail on whether his team will make a trade before the deadline

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