Signed agreements aren’t yet in place. An official announcement won’t likely be made for some time.
But as we turn the page on the 2015 Winter Classic and start looking ahead to the next one, the signs are pointing to a Montreal-Boston matchup at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., next year.
That is considered an appealing option for the game, according to a source. One area the NHL believes it can still grow its signature event is among the Canadian audience and pairing the Habs with the Bruins makes all kinds of sense — both because the teams are fierce rivals and it would encourage fans in Quebec to make the drive down for the game.
Among the issues still to be settled is striking a deal with the NFL’s New England Patriots, who would have to vacate their 68,000-seat stadium in mid-December and play a couple road games at the end of their regular season while the NHL built the temporary ice surface and staged the event.
That was something the Rooney family agreed to when the 2011 Winter Classic was played at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, but didn’t interest the Washington Redskins when the NHL was scouting locations last year.
The league took Thursday’s game to Nationals Park instead and hit a home run with a picture-perfect event. As a result, the enthusiasm for outdoor games is as strong at the top levels of the NHL as ever before.
“What you saw here today from 43,000 people was a level of enthusiasm for hockey, for the Capitals, that I’m not sure many people imagined could ever have been accomplished here in Washington,” commissioner Gary Bettman said afterwards. “The atmosphere couldn’t have been greater.”
The Bruins have already publicly acknowledged their interest in hosting a second Winter Classic following the 2010 game at Fenway Park.
It was the 2011 Stanley Cup final, of all things, that first opened the door for Canadian teams to get involved in the popular event. NBC received record ratings for that heated Boston-Vancouver championship series, and later signed off on a Detroit-Toronto matchup in the 2014 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.
“Everything kind of builds on everything else,” NHL chief operating officer John Collins told me last year. “I think that Vancouver-Boston Stanley Cup final began to change people’s perceptions really in the U.S. — that at a certain point it’s really just about great hockey and great teams and players, not necessarily about the geographic mix for the matchup.”
There isn’t a stronger rivalry in hockey than Habs-Bruins. The teams have met an astounding 34 times in the playoffs, including a seven-game series last spring.
If everything falls into place properly, there’s a good chance they’ll be squaring off in the open air at the next Winter Classic as well.