It's been nine months since the 2015 Winter Classic was awarded to Washington, D.C. and the Washington Capitals, and now we finally know who they'll play. TSN's Bob McKenzie reports that the Chicago Blackhawks will be the Capitals' opponent on New Year's Day 2015 for an outdoor hockey game in the nation's capital.
The news has not been confirmed by the league just yet, but with the 2014-15 NHL schedule set to be announced this coming Sunday, it doesn't seem like official confirmation is far off.
The NHL and the Capitals have yet to nail down a venue for the event, but TSN reports the logical choice, Nationals Park, home of Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals, is the likely candidate.
The NHL has been fond of football stadiums in the past due to their larger capacity and better sight lines, but FedEx Field, home of Washington's NFL team, is a bad option for many reasons. For starters, it is located well outside of D.C. proper and is barely public transit accessible. Beyond that, there's an NFL game scheduled for December 28 between Washington and the Dallas Cowboys, and that would not give the NHL enough time to take control of the building and properly build an ice rink on its field.
Other candidates could include RFK Stadium, the 40-year-old former home of both the NFL and MLB in Washington, but frankly, it's an old dump. Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium, home of the NFL's Ravens, and Camden Yards, home of MLB's Orioles, have been speculated as possible venues, but they are obviously not in Washington.
The Blackhawks will be playing in their third outdoor NHL game, having played in the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field and a Stadium Series game in 2014 against Pittsburgh. It will be Washington's second outdoor game, joining the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. The NHL has done the cross-conference thing for an outdoor regular season game just once back in 2003 when they hosted the Heritage Classic between the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens.
The Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins were some of the other likely options as opponents -- the Flyers, for one, were reportedly told they were finalists to play in the game -- but the ratings draw from Chicago can't be argued. Not that those other cities can't pull strong TV numbers, but this is a made-for-television event and NBC likely gets the final say. Blackhawks it is, rivalry game be damned. It also opens the door for some other great Eastern Conference Winter Classic matchup opportunities down the line, including Bruins vs. Canadiens or Flyers vs. Penguins.
It's been reported that the San Jose Sharks will likely host an outdoor game in 2014-15 as well, likely against the Los Angeles Kings at either AT&T Park in San Francisco or the new Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara.