Wednesday night’s matchup between the Rangers and Islanders at Yankee Stadium was the league’s third outdoor game in five days and fourth in January. And there’s still more to come, with games scheduled for this March in Chicago and Vancouver.
After that, we’ll go back to an all-indoor schedule … at least for a few months. The league hasn’t announced its plans for next year’s games, besides the Winter Classic, which the Capitals will host. We don’t know how many outdoor games there will be next season and beyond, though recent reports have said there will be four and we’ve been assured the number will “definitely” be fewer than this year’s six.
By the end of the 2013-14 schedule, 11 teams will have hosted regular-season outdoor games, with the Blackhawks and Rangers each hosting twice. The odds are good that more of the league’s top markets will get to double up before long, and that’s fine — outdoor games are big business, and it would be a costly mistake to try to spread them around the whole league equally in the name of fairness.
That said, there are plenty of markets that could make great hosts and haven’t had a chance yet. So here’s a look at a dozen possibilities that could be in line to get their opportunity soon, plus my odds for first-time hosts getting a game in the next three years.
It’s arguably the best hockey market in the country, the team is decent, and there are multiple strong venues from which to choose. How has the NHL not done a game here already? Are we sure the NHL hasn’t done a game here already?
I’ll be damned. Well, we need to fix that, and quickly.
Or maybe not so quickly, since Minnesota would be such a great choice, you could make a case for holding off one more year and giving it the 2016 Winter Classic. But if the league decides to go with a Stadium Series game instead, that works, too. Target Field or TCF Bank Stadium would both be excellent venues.
A bigger question might be whom the Wild would play. Chicago is the natural choice, but that’s true for most matchups and at some point, there’s a risk of inducing Blackhawks fatigue. Detroit could work. Or maybe the league goes with Dallas, in a battle that would pit Minnesota’s NHL present against its past.
In any case, if the Wild don’t get either the 2016 Classic or a Stadium Series game next year, something is wrong.
The Odds: 1-to-5
Not quite a sure thing, but close.
This is another one that would seem to fall into the “not if, but when” category. Colorado is a solid market where the hockey footprint extends beyond the NHL, with the college game and youth level both thriving. And Denver itself would provide the sort of stunning visuals the league seems to love so much for these games.
There’s even a perfect opponent: the Detroit Red Wings. A Detroit-Colorado pairing would quite possibly be the most anticipated, intense, and downright nasty outdoor matchup in league history. And I’m just talking about the alumni game.
The bigger question is where you put it. There are several options, including Mile High and Coors Field, as well as multiple college football stadiums nearby. None are perfect, but few venues are, and Denver just has too much going for it to be denied for long.
Oh, and now one of the NHL’s top sponsors is asking for a Colorado game. Yeah, this is going to happen, and probably sooner than later.
The Odds: off the board
At this point, I’m calling it a 100 percent lock.
Toronto Maple Leafs
At first glance, it seems odd the league hasn’t done an outdoor game in Toronto yet. After all, this is the NHL’s biggest market in terms of generating revenue, and the Maple Leafs consistently dominate Canadian television ratings.3 And with nearly a century of history to draw on, there’d be no shortage of the sort of nostalgia the league loves to dump all over these games.
It’s a no-brainer. So what’s the holdup?
Well, there is one tiny detail that would have to be worked out: a decent venue. Toronto doesn’t have one. The city’s biggest stadium is the former SkyDome (now known as the Rogers Centre), a concrete eyesore that would be all wrong for this sort of event. Then there’s BMO Field, which — at a capacity of just over 20,000 — is too small. Right now, those are the only two options.
So, what can they do? The same thing Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment does every time it has a problem: throw giant fistfuls of money at it. MLSE is reportedly set to spend millions to expand BMO Field with both permanent and temporary seating, getting it into the 40,000-seat range. That’s not huge, but it would be comparable to the smaller sites of previous games like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.
If the plan comes together, Toronto would be ready to host a game in 2017. That also happens to be the team’s 100th anniversary season, and MLSE has made it known that it intends to go all out to mark the occasion. In other words, you can probably go ahead and pencil in the 2017 Winter Classic for Toronto right now.
The Odds: 1-to-2
Unless the BMO Field plan falls through, which it could, they should be a lock for 2017.