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Penguins-Flyers outdoor game site undetermined

| Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, 10:30 p.m.

CHICAGO — Penn State may have to wait for the Penguins.

A potential outdoor game at Beaver Stadium involving the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers has one significant obstacle to overcome, a high-ranking NHL official said Thursday.

“It's always fun to come up with those scenarios in the league office or as a third party, but at the end of the day it does require a club to give up a home game,” said NHL chief operating officer John Collins.

“We haven't broached that yet.”

Penguins CEO David Morehouse and his Flyers counterpart, Peter Luukko, held preliminary conversations about a potential outdoor game that would bring the commonwealth's two NHL clubs to Beaver Stadium.

Neither side is eager to dismiss the Beaver Stadium game as a possibility, but there is no firm agreement between the Penguins and Flyers on how to pull off a neutral site game.

NHL clubs — unlike those in NFL and MLB — generate the majority of their revenue from home gates. The NHL, not its accommodating host club, receives an undisclosed share of the gate for the Winter Classic and its outdoor game series.

Collins, a former NFL executive, was the driving force behind the NHL's original Winter Classic in 2008, and that event's success sparked the five additional outdoor games this season.

Although the Classic — which will be staged between Detroit and Toronto on New Year's Day at Michigan Stadium — remains the most significant event on the NHL calendar other than the Stanley Cup Final, the five additional outdoor games are potential building blocks for future series, Collins said.

“Every game opens a new opportunity,” Collins said, citing a Los Angeles showdown between the Kings and Anaheim Ducks at Dodger Stadium that will take place the night after the Grammy Awards ceremony.

“I think it's a fairly unique year.”

The Penguins are proving a unique instrument for the NHL because Sidney Crosby is, according to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, “the face of our game” across North America.

Crosby played for the Penguins in their exhibition game at United Center on Thursday night. It was only his second game in the Windy City since his rookie season (2005-06).

If healthy, his return to Chicago would be on March 1, 2014, for a game between the Penguins and Blackhawks at Solider Field.

That would mark the third appearance in an outdoor game for Crosby and the Penguins. They pioneered the Winter Classic on New Year's Day 2008 at Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium, and the Classic came to Heinz Field, where the Penguins and Washington Capitals played at night on Jan. 1, 2011.

The Penguins-Blackhawks game at Solider Field will pit the former perennial Cup favorite against the defending Cup champion.

It also will feature other stars such as the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin and Chicago's dynamic duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Crosby and Toews (Canada), Malkin (Russia) and Kane (United States) — if healthy — figure to be heavily promoted by NBC during its February broadcast of the Winter Olympics.

“It's not an accident,” Collins said. “We think it's a great way to get a lift coming out of the Olympics.”

Pittsburgh is likely to get a lift coming off the Penguins agreement to serve as a visiting club for the second time in an outdoor game.

If multiple outdoor games in a season are going to become standard, the Penguins want to be among the handful of go-to franchises to play host — and Collins suggested their willingness to play in Chicago would put Pittsburgh in play.

“I don't think somebody playing as an opponent precludes them (from hosting another Winter Classic and/or outdoor game,” Collins said. “Often times it is a club's willingness to being an opponent that leads them to hosting.”

NHL officials are intrigued by the possibility of an outdoor game at PNC Park because of a perceived made-for-TV outfield backdrop of the Clemente Bridge, Allegheny River and Downtown skyline.

Collins would not commit on specifics of a likely future Pittsburgh outdoor NHL game, but he pointed out “a lot of people who think of the ballpark in Pittsburgh as one of the best ballparks in the country.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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