The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins are all but set to have an outdoor game in 2017, according to ESPN’s Scott Burnside and other outlets.
The event is likely to take place at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, with a potential rematch in Philadelphia two years later, according to Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. There are just a few kinks being worked out — like whether the game will be a part of the Winter Classic series or the Stadium Series.
Winter Classic in Toronto?
Usually we know where the Winter Classic will be by this point. However, the NHL has refrained from making an announcement.
Part of the reason, Burnside says, is as speculated: the league is unsure whether or not to give the Winter Classic to the Toronto Maple Leafs in their centennial year because of a wealth of major sporting events already taking place in Toronto during the 2016-17 season.
The Winter Classic is an event that would fit nicely inside their centennial celebration, but would fall in the midst of the World Junior Championship, in a year that will also include the reborn World Cup of Hockey and the CFL’s Grey Cup.
The Leafs will also be holding special events during their centennial season.
The big worry is that the World Cup needs to be a success. If it’s reborn for a single year and doesn’t sell well enough to bring it back, it was kind of for nothing. Giving Toronto a Winter Classic would create competition that they may not want.
What We Do Know
The Flyers and Penguins are a great rivalry and getting a pair of outdoor games will bring some fire to the match-up, which is needed when these games have sometimes teetered on the brink of irrelevance.
While one source toward Molinari “my guess is it will happen,” there are a lot of details being worked out. Burnside mentions that the game almost happened at a neutral site — Penn State — but that costs kept that from taking place.
Another hold up is timing. If the Winter Classic is in Pittsburgh, having it on January 1 won’t work because of the NFL schedule. The NHL would need to agree to have it on December 31 and Burnside says that there is a belief that it could work at that point.
Molinari says in his report that the game is most likely to be a Stadium Series event rather than the Winter Classic due to the potential date conflict with the Steelers. That would make sense as well since the teams are looking for what’s essentially a home-and-home of outdoor games and this would be the third Winter Classic the Penguins have played in. Additionally, both teams have already hosted a Winter Classic and Heinz Field will be the first stadium to host two separate outdoor NHL events (aside from the Rangers hosting two back-to-back games at Yankee Stadium).
Also mentioned is a lingering possibility that the Minnesota Wild wind up with the 2017 Winter Classic. The Wild will be hosting a Stadium Series game this year at TCF Stadium in Minneapolis, where the University of Minnesota Gophers football team plays and where the Minnesota Vikings have been temporarily housed.
Part of the reason that there will be a year in between the two Penguins v. Flyers matches, is the league doesn’t like to give the same team an outdoor game two years in a row. With Minnesota having an outdoor game this year, it seems unlikely that they’ll get the Winter Classic.
Though it’s telling that Minnesota is still in the hunt this late in the game, with Toronto celebrating their centennial and the Penguins/Flyers offering a rivalry that Minnesota just doesn’t have. There’s a demand for a major outdoor event like the Winter Classic in Minnesota and a fan base that will support it. But the bid would, at least on the surface, seem unlikely for 2017.
Either way it looks like the Penguins and Flyers will be a part of some kind of outdoor game during the 2016-17 season.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.