If Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman is to be believed, the Toronto Maple Leafs will be playing in an outdoor game on January 1. Now, whether that game will be the Winter Classic remains to be seen. Friedman suggests that the Leafs will be playing the Detroit Red Wings in a rematch of the 2014 Winter Classic.
This makes the situation concerning the 2017 edition of the Winter Classic even foggier. We’ve heard that the St. Louis Blues hosting the Chicago Blackhawks at Busch Stadium is the most likely outdoor game to be given the spotlight of the Winter Classic. However, the NHL faces a situation concerning the first of January, the usual date for the event.
January 1 is the last day of the 2016-17 NFL season. Now, we all know that Gary Bettman and company don’t want their premier mid-season event to be overshadowed be the NFL. So the rumors have been that the Blues-Blackhawks Winter Classic would take place on Monday, January 2 as to avoid going up against the NFL.
The tradition is that the Winter Classic is the first outdoor game of the season. However, if the Winter Classic is on the second, then it wouldn’t even be the second outdoor game. It would in fact be the third. The plan seems to be that the Winnipeg Jets will host the Edmonton Oilers at Investor’s Group Field at some point in October. So you have an all-Canadian game in October, which in all honesty could be given the Heritage Classic spotlight. Then you have the Leafs hosting the Red Wings in a celebration of the Leafs’ 100th season. Then you get the Winter Classic as the third course.
Is the League setting itself up for failure with this proposed setup? Canadians will flock to the Stadiums and be watching on television for the two games featuring Canadian teams. Will they want to see a game that has team that has played in multiple outdoor games in the Chicago Blackhawks? No disrespect to the Blues, but they just don’t have the same history as the Leafs and Red Wings do. There’s a reason that the League is most likely putting Chicago as the opponent. They are a big draw. That’s why they have hosted the game twice and will have been the away team twice after they play the Minnesota Wild on February 21. If anything, a better game for the Winter Classic might be the Leafs versus the Blackhawks.
If this happens, one thing that can be said is at least the NHL would be giving the Leafs something for their 100th anniversary. Sure, the Los Angeles Kings are getting next season’s All-Star Game. The Blackhawks are hosting the 2017 NHL Draft. The Leafs might only be getting the equivalent of socks on Christmas morning, but hey, it’s better than nothing I guess.