Ranking Possible Maple Leaf Winter Classic Opponents

The Toronto Maple Leafs look to be in line to host the 2017 Winter Classic, according to TSN’s Pierre Lebrun. It would be part of the team’s celebration for their 100th season. The game would be hosted at BMO Field. It might not be the biggest or most attended game, but since the Montreal Canadiens got an outdoor game for their 100th season, the Leafs should get one for the same reason.

So let’s say the Leafs get the game, whether it’s the Winter Classic or a Stadium Series game as Lebrun mentions the Leafs might the latter due to the city of Toronto’s crowded sports schedule around New Years. The next question is obviously: who would their opponent be? Seeing that these games are usually rival games, I’ve narrowed it down to six teams. It should be no surprise that five of the teams make up the Original Six teams, one of them only there because they’re in the Original Six.

New York Rangers

The Rangers are the team that Lebrun suggests as most likely. The biggest reason for the Rangers being the opponent only needs three letters: NBC. Other than the fact they’re an American team that can draw, there is really not much of a rivalry between the two teams. That won’t stop the NHL though.

(Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)
(Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Montreal Canadiens

As the Maple Leafs biggest rival, this would be the obvious choice for an outdoor game. They’re the two NHL teams that will have had 100 or more years of history behind them. No matter whether the teams were or are in playoff contention or not, games between the two have and will always have players get up for them.

Since they haven’t had the chance to play each other in the playoffs in more than a few years, the NHL should give the teams the stage of the Winter Classic. However, that is unlikely as Montreal was in this year’s Classic and probably wouldn’t repeat. Again, the fact that it would be two Canadian teams would make NBC shy away. This doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work as a Stadium Series game.

Boston Bruins

The fact that Boston was also in this year’s Classic again causes the likeliness of this happening to drop. While the two are Original Six teams, they have a lot of recent history. All the original pieces may be gone, but the Phil Kessel-Tyler Seguin trade was talked about for years. Everyone in Toronto remembers the collapse in Game 7 of the 2013 NHL Playoffs (It was 4-1!). Plenty of stuff to talk about during the game at least.

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Chicago Blackhawks

This would be an interesting game for sure. Out of all the Original Six teams, the Blackhawks probably rank the lowest on the rivalry chart. Playing only two games against them a season will do that. However, there is definitely history between the two teams. Remember that the last game at Maple Leaf Gardens was played against the Blackhawks.

Since Chicago seems to be in an outdoor game every season, why not have them play in another somewhat historical game against the Leafs?

Buffalo Sabres

Now, this game is more Stadium Series material than Winter Classic. That doesn’t mean that an outdoor game between the two wouldn’t be great. Due to the short distance between these two teams, they have built up a pretty good rivalry over the years. While Buffalo isn’t the thorn in the Leafs side that they once were,  this game would feature two teams that are  trying to make it back into the playoffs.  The fact that Mike Babcock spurned Buffalo to come to the Leafs has also reignited the rivalry.

Detroit Red Wings

Detroit is only here because they are an Original Six rival. While it would still be a great game, they wouldn’t repeat an outdoor game between these two teams only three years after the first. Although, the NHL has done some crazy things concerning outdoor games. For example, the alumni roster for the Minnesota Wild this year is a mish-mash of Wild and Minnesota North Star alumni. So does that mean if Dallas were to ever play outdoors and had an alumni game, would they be able to use North Stars alumni as well? Like I said, crazy things have happened or at least will happen. So maybe there is a chance after all.