When the Washington Capitals took part in the NHL’s marquee outdoor game in 2011, it was with assurances that the league would eventually bring its annual Winter Classic to Washington. That vague promise now has a fixed target.
The Capitals will host the 2015 Winter Classic, according to a person at the NHL with knowledge of the situation. The team declined to comment, but Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis is scheduled to make a formal announcement Saturday morning.
While the NHL has committed to bringing the game to the Washington region, the venue and opponent, if they have been determined, have not been revealed.
Nationals Park in Southeast Washington is a likely candidate. Nationals owner Mark Lerner is a minority partner in Leonsis’s Monumental Sports and Entertainment. The Nationals lease the ballpark from the District, though, and would not have sole control over such a decision.
The 52-year-old RFK Stadium would be the only other viable option within the District itself. The thought of playing an outdoor NHL game on the National Mall is alluring, but Leonsis dismissed that as a possibility in 2012.
“The idea of a game being played on the Mall has been floated around for many years — it is not feasible; there aren’t enough common areas to build out seats,” Leonsis wrote on his blog on Jan. 3, 2012. “And the expense involved to create locker rooms; icestands and studios are prohibitive. The Mall is managed by the National Park Services; as well.”
If keeping the game within the District weren’t a top priority, potential Maryland sites include FedEx Field in Landover, or Camden Yards or M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
A Washington city official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said officials from the NHL and the Capitals visited Nationals Park and RFK Stadium at least two years ago as possible sites for a Winter Classic. But there have been no official discussions recently about hosting the event at either venue.
The league has staged Winter Classic games in both baseball and football stadiums.
The NHL, which usually announces the teams and venue for the next game in the preceding spring or early summer, previously held the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Fenway Park in Boston and Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo held the first Winter Classic in 2008, and on the upcoming New Year’s Day, the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs will face off at Michigan Stadium before a crowd expected to exceed 100,000.
As for whom the Capitals will face in the 2015 game, the Philadelphia Flyers, who will be a part of the new Metropolitan Division with the Capitals, are believed to be a front-runner.
However the details are settled, Capitals players are excited to take part in the event. Eleven players on the current roster played in Washington’s 3-1 victory over the Penguins at Heinz Field in 2011.
“Even if I didn’t have success in the first one, I’m excited to play in another one,” said Eric Fehr, who recorded two goals in the game. “It’s a really unique experience, something I definitely look back on with good memories, but to have one at home would be even cooler.”
The Winter Classic has become one of the NHL’s chief moneymaking endeavors and is also one of the league’s best opportunities to draw in the casual fan during the regular season.
The Classic has been such a success that after years of playing only one outdoor game in the elements, the NHL will feature six outdoor games this season. In addition to the Winter Classic, the league will hold a stadium series that features games at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, two at Yankee Stadium in New York and another at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Players, though, said additional outdoor games do not diminish the luster of the NHL’s signature regular season showcase.
“It’s a really cool event, and I think we have the market for it,” Brooks Laich said. “We’ve only been in one; for us, it was a tremendous experience. The novelty hasn’t worn off because people here haven’t experienced that event.”
Capitals note: The Caps dropped to 2-0-2 in the preseason Friday with a 5-4 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at Verizon Center. Every Caps preseason game has gone to a shootout.
Jonathan Toews recorded the only goal in the tiebreak for Chicago after the teams traded goals for three periods. Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, Eric Fehr and Alex Ovechkin (on a power play) scored for the Capitals.
Mike DeBonis, Barry Svrluga and Thomas Heath contributed to this report.