Wednesday evening, the National Hockey League announced four outdoor games throughout the 2016-17 season. The 2017 Winter Classic will feature the Chicago Blackhawks hosted by the St. Louis Blues at Busch Stadium January 2, 2017. The Philadelphia Flyers will face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field February 18, 2017 for a Stadium Series game. October 23, 2016, the Winnipeg Jets will host Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers at Investors Group Field for the 2016 Heritage Classic. At the center of the universe, the Toronto Maple Leafs will host the Detroit Red Wings January 1, 2017 for the first Centennial Classic. The string of outdoor games throughout the 2016-17 season are just a slice of the NHL’s 100th anniversary.
The 2016-17 outdoor games are a celebration of hockey’s beginning outdoors. For the Winnipeg Jets and the Toronto Maple Leafs, the games are celebrations of symbolic Canadian teams that are developing into competitive teams.
The 2016 Heritage Classic is symbolic to Winnipeg for True North’s successful accomplishment of bringing hockey from Atlanta to Winnipeg. Although the past five seasons have not been what fans expected, symptoms of future success are budding.
After a disappointing exit from the 2015 playoffs and a forgettable 2015-16 season, the Jets are looking to infuse a number of young players into their lineup. When Ondrej Pavelec suffered an injury and Michael Hutchinson didn’t perform, prospect Connor Hellebuyck was called upon. In 26 games, Hellebuyck posted a 13-11-1 record with a 2.34 GAA and an astounding .918 save percentage despite a lack of goal support. Rookies Joel Armia, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Josh Morrissey have had a small sample size in performance, but have also shown strides that they can be effective regulars.
Compared to the 2015-16 roster, the Winnipeg Jets will have a dynamic team that is capable offensively and defensively, (hopefully) backed by a solid foundation of goaltending (in Connor Hellebuyck). The Jets will be a tough opponent to the visiting Edmonton Oilers in front of 40 000 fans October 23.
Lou Lamoriello recently spoke with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman about the current state of the Toronto Maple Leafs. When asked how close the current roster is to the 2016-17 roster, Lou Lamoriello responded that the current roster holds 50% of the future. Who could be out by the conclusion of the 2016 offseason? What will the roster look like when the Leafs play in the Centennial Classic?
If only 50% of the future is currently playing with the Leafs, nine players that could be shipped out from Toronto include Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak, Brooks Laich, Colin Greening, Milan Michalek, P.A. Parenteau, Matt Hunwick, Martin Marincin, and Jonathan Bernier. Maybe James van Riemsdyk could be on his way out too.
The summer of 2016 could see the Leafs transition from a team riddled with veterans to a group of youngsters. If the Leafs trade van Riemsdyk’s cap friendly contract, Mitch Marner could possibly play on the wing with Kadri and Soshnikov. Maybe Tobias Lindberg and Kasperi Kapanen could be regulars with William Nylander. Brendan Leipsic and Zach Hyman COULD find themselves centered by Leo Komarov. What could the return be for JVR?
The Jets will have a tinkered lineup of young regulars for the 2016 Heritage Classic. The Leafs will be unrecognizable on paper for their group of youngsters and to the naked eye with a new logo and jersey.
The outdoor games in Canada won’t attract more than 50 000 fans due to CFL stadium capacity restrictions, but can have an intimate atmosphere for the fans who choose to brave the elements (because October in Winnipeg and January in Toronto is so cold). Connor McDavid and the Oilers will look to ruin the Jets’ party, while the Red Wings will look to even the score after their 3-2 shootout defeat in the 2014 Winter Classic at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Leafs fans, Mike Babcock is 1-0-1 in outdoor games.