There are already a number of expected outdoor games for next season, but add one more to the list as the Toronto Maple Leafs appear to be getting heading outside for their centennial celebration after all.
According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Maple Leafs are expected to host an outdoor contest on Jan. 1, 2017, and the expected opponent is the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings and Maple Leafs have previously done battle in an outdoor game when Ann Arbor, Mich., played host to the Winter Classic. That game, the 2014 Winter Classic, set the all-time outdoor attendance record for the NHL with nearly 105,500 watching from the stands.
Previously there were reports that, should an outdoor game be played in Toronto, the game would be held at BMO Field, the home stadium of MLS’ Toronto FC. BMO Field seats between 30,000 and 34,000 fans. However, the venue could be expanded to include an additional 10,000 fans.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league was taking a wait-and-see approach when asked about BMO Field by the Toronto Sun’s John Kruk in July.
“It’s not a no, it’s not a yes. It’s, ‘We’ll have to see.’ We haven’t focused on the outdoor games for the season after this,” Bettman told Kruk. “But if BMO is ready for an outdoor game, and the Leafs want us to take a look at it, we’ll take a look.”
While New Year’s Day is typically the day of the Winter Classic, there’s no word whether or not the Maple Leafs’ outdoor game will be the NHL’s signature outdoor game. According to Friedman, the St. Louis Blues could still be in line to host the Winter Classic Jan. 2, a Monday, against the Chicago Blackhawks. The league has never had two Winter Classics in one season, but they have moved the game back to Monday previously in order to avoid competition with the NFL.
Toronto landing an outdoor game is not altogether unexpected as it’s the franchise’s 100th season in 2016-17. After missing out on the 2017 All-Star Game and the 2017 Draft, there were some wondering what events would be left for the Maple Leafs to host. And though Toronto did miss out on all-star weekend and the draft, the city is playing host to the World Cup of Hockey in September 2016 and will be one of two venues for the World Junior Championship in December, two major events.
There has been no confirmation from the league about the outdoor games, but if the Maple Leafs play in one next season it will be just the second time Toronto has had an outdoor contest. For the Red Wings, it would be the fourth outdoor game.