Leiweke: Toronto pitching to host NHL events

Luke Fox of Sportsnet.ca discusses Tim Leiweke's goal of Toronto hosting the NHL Draft, Winter Classic, All-Star Game and even the World Cup of Hockey for the Leaf's centennial year.

The Toronto Maple Leafs want everything for their birthday.

And they’re telling the National Hockey League that they owe it to their fans to give it to them.

The team with the longest Stanley Cup drought is looking to host every other major NHL event—the All-Star Game, the NHL Draft and the Winter Classic, not to mention the anticipated 2016 World Cup of Hockey—leading up to or during the club’s 100th anniversary, to be celebrated throughout 2017.

Tim Leiweke, CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, recently told Sportsnet that the organization is in the process of bidding for all four events.

“It’s not a splash. I just think Toronto—it’s our 100th anniversary, and this is the greatest hockey city on Earth. I think we owe it to our fans. And we’re telling the league that they owe it to our fans,” Leiweke said. “They don’t disagree, but we’ve got to go through a process to win it. I think we’ll win it. I think we’ll get there. But we got to go bid on it.”

An NHL spokesman told Sportsnet Monday that the league is not yet ready to announce its event calendar, nor the World Cup, which was last held in 2004. (Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston first reported Toronto as the strongest candidate to host the tournament.)

“There’s not some magical formula that you pop in. Some of it has to do with timing and what makes the most sense,” commissioner Gary Bettman told Sportsnet back in February. “It’s based on a whole host of factors: the market, where the team is in terms of its competitiveness, the venue, where we’ve been and where we haven’t been.”

Toronto made its Winter Classic debut as a visiting team on Jan. 1, playing Detroit at the Big House in Michigan. Leiweke added that Toronto hosting the 2017 Winter Classic is still dependent on the expansion of BMO Field, home of MLSE’s soccer club, Toronto FC. In April, Toronto city council voted overwhelmingly in favour of earmarking $10 million for MLSE’s proposed expansion of the pitch.

“Once we get BMO under construction and they see we can do 40,000 seats, then we’ll have a serious conversation,” Leiweke said. “Until we prove to the league we can do that, they’re saying, ‘Come back and see us when you’re under construction.’ I get that, and I don’t blame them.’”

Toronto has hosted the NHL Draft twice (at the Metro Convention Centre in 1985 and at the Air Canada Centre in 2002). It last hosted the All-Star Game in 2000 and could pull the sentimentality card, as the Leafs hosted the very first NHL All-Star Game back in 1947, when the Cup champs would annually face-off in an exhibition against the best players from the five other teams.

The 2017 season doesn’t just represent the 100th anniversary of Toronto’s NHL team (originally, the Arenas); it’s also the centennial of the entire league, now a 30-club enterprise eager to push special events in growing hockey markets.

Columbus is set to host the 2015 All-Star Game; Washington and Northern California’s Bay Area will get outdoor games next season and the 2015 draft will take place at Florida’s BT&T Center. Colorado looks like a safe bet for an outdoor game in 2016.

“A lot of it is money,” said Leiweke, a think-big exec who, according to Fobes, operates the richest NHL club. “I think every team wants what we’re trying to get. But when you combine the fact that we’re trying to get a lot of it in a short period of time, it’s hard to do.”

But not unprecedented.

The only NHL club older than Toronto, the Montreal Canadiens, celebrated its centennial by hosting both the 2009 All-Star Game and Draft at the Bell Centre.

“Montreal got it all in a short period of time for their 100th anniversary, and that’s not lost on Gary and what he wants to do to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the league,” Leiweke said. “That said, we still have to bid on it, and we still have to win it.”