Gary Bettman addresses Toronto 2017 Winter Classic rumours

Scott Oake caught up with bearded NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to discuss the hype of the Winter Classic and whether they’ve settled on any destinations for next year's Classic.

Don’t gather your warmest winter gear just yet, Toronto.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman addressed rumours Friday that the Maple Leafs are front-runners to host the 2017 Winter Classic, saying the NHL isn’t ready to reveal any decisions about next year’s event just yet.

“Obviously Toronto is interested, but we haven’t made any decisions yet,” Bettman said in conversation with Sportsnet’s Scott Oake during the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium in Boston. “There’s a lot of work and planning that goes into committing to one of these events, and we have a long way to go before we’re ready to make an announcement.”

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While the location of next year’s New Year’s Day event is still very much up in the air, it’s the date that remains in question when it comes to an outdoor showdown happening in Winnipeg.

Bettman said the league still owes the Jets an outdoor game after plans for a Heritage Classic in Manitoba’s capital fell through last year.

“We haven’t settled on a date that we’re ready to announce,” Bettman said. “We do owe Winnipeg a game, and we would’ve been there last year but the Grey Cup and some complications.”

The Jets initially hoped to host a Heritage Classic this season at the home of the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but the clubs couldn’t agree on a date on which to hold the event at Investor’s Group Field.

Bettman also touched on a few other topics surrounding the Winter Classic. Here are a few excerpts:

On the success of the Winter Classic tradition:
All of the outdoor games have been phenomenal. Each one gets better and better … You see the fan engagement, the buzz, the excitement. People just love this as an event, another way to connect with our game. And the players love it as well. It really captures the imagination and does things that you would never expect from a regular season game.

On how outdoor games could factor into next year’s 100th anniversary of the NHL:
The centennial celebration will touch the game on a whole host of levels, and big events — including outdoor games — will be a huge part of it. We’re proud of the fact that we’re going to be celebrating 100 years, and we want to make it a really big deal.

On his new beard he was sporting at the game:
Someone suggested it’s like a playoff beard — if I keep the beard, the weather’s perfect for the Winter Classic. But if you ask my wife, it should’ve been gone yesterday.

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