The Toronto Maple Leafs could be celebrating their 100th anniversary with one of the league’s signature events. According to a report, the 2017 Winter Classic could be coming to BMO Field, the stadium that plays host to MLS’ Toronto FC.
While nothing has been confirmed, Howard Berger reported Monday that “a source with many years of connection” to the NHL has told him the league is likely to place the 2017 Winter Classic at BMO Field on Jan. 2, 2017.
Should Toronto be awarded the game, it would be the second time the Maple Leafs were involved in an outdoor game and the first time they’ve played host to the event. Previously, Toronto took part in the 2014 Winter Classic at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., against the Detroit Red Wings. The Maple Leafs won that Winter Classic 3-2 in a shootout, and the game was the most well attended outdoor game in league history with more than 105,000 fans taking in the event.
There has long been talk about what exactly the Maple Leafs would have planned for their centennial, but reports have been that Toronto was attempting to bring one or both of the All-Star Game and an outdoor contest to the city to celebrate the franchise’s 100th anniversary.
One perceived issue with hosting the game at BMO Field is the lack of seating, but Berger reported that were the MLS stadium to host the game, portable stands would be in place in order to seat an additional 10,000 patrons. Currently, BMO Field seats between 30,000 and 34,000 fans. The additional seating would be brought in for the CFL’s championship game, the Grey Cup, which is set to take place Nov. 27, 2016 at BMO Field. It would then remain up for the Winter Classic, Berger wrote.
“We’ll have to see,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told the Toronto Sun’s John Kryk 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. 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.”
At a potential capacity of 40,000, a Toronto Winter Classic game could have the third-smallest crowd in the nine-year history of the event. The 2010 game between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers at Boston’s history Fenway Park had an attendance of 38,112, the smallest in the event’s history. The Winter Classic at Chicago’s Wrigley Field between the Blackhawks and Red Wings had 40,818 in the stands. By comparison, the 2016 game between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., could see an attendance of more than 60,000.
While the game is generally played on Jan. 1, Berger reported the game would be played on Monday, Jan. 2, 2017 in order to avoid going head-to-head with the day’s NFL games. There’s precedent for the change in scheduling, as the 2012 Winter Classic between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers was played on Jan. 2, 2012, also a Monday.