Blog Entry

Reports: Leafs-Wings at Big House all but done

Posted on: January 13, 2012 2:59 pm

By Brian Stubits

It doesn't sound like it's going to take the NHL until September to finalize the details for next year's Winter Classic.

The little steam engine that was rumbling about next year's game being played at the University of Michigan's football stadium between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs has morphed into a full-on freight train. Gary Bettman joked at the news conference to announce this past Winter Classic game that it was the worst-kept secret in the NHL. Well, this one might take the cake already.

The conjecture was swirling around the Citizen's Bank Park press box that the Red Wings would be hosting, very possibly against the Leafs. The question was where? More and more the evidence started to point toward Michigan Stadium, a.k.a. the Big House, being the site.

It has come to the point of inevitability now. Jeff Arnold of Yahoo Sports was first to report that the NHL was in advanced talks with the University of Michigan for the game to be played there. Then TSN's insider Bob McKenzie extraordinaire echoed the same thing Thursday night on TSN.

"I can in fact confirm those reports that the NHL's desire is that the Leafs play the Wings at the Big House. It'll be configured for 115k. It's not finalized yet, but by the end of the month there's expected to be a formal announcement. The NHL is well down the road."

Just in case that wasn't convincing enough, Scott Burnside at also confirmed the advanced negotiations with a little extra information thrown in.

The Jan. 1 game between the Original Six rivals would be played at the University of Michigan's "Big House," which, at 110,000-plus seats, is the largest college football stadium in the country. Ann Arbor is about 43 miles west of Detroit.

But cognizant of the need to include the City of Detroit in the process, the league would like to build a second outdoor rink in downtown Detroit, probably at Comerica Park, the home of Major League Baseball's Detroit Tigers.

That's an interesting twist and a good idea, I think. It puts some action much closer to the heart of the fan base back in Detroit and it helps deal with the issue of Wings owner Mike Illitch wanting the game in a place he owns, Comerica Park.

The reports all go on to indicate that the NHL could have it wrapped up and possibly announced by the All-Star Game later this month.

This would be a groundbreaker for multiple reasons. The first is that it would absolutely smash the NHL record for largest attendance at a game. The Big House can hold more than 110,000 for Wolverine football games and would figure to host the same for a Winter Classic game. It would be a spectacle to behold, even if it's been done before. I don't think too many people actually saw Michigan and Michigan State play at the Big House, so it would still be unique.

The other obvious groundbreaker here is the introduction of a Canadian team to an event that has been a showcase event for NBC Sports, an American network. The idea has been to pit two American teams to help draw attention in the States. Some fear that a Canadian team won't draw as much interest.

I call hogwash. We have been able to see so far that all the Winter Classic games are going to draw big audiences. It doesn't much matter who has played, the ratings have all been pretty close in scope. It's the NHL's biggest regular-season game, hockey fans will watch.

Then you throw in the teams involved? We have already seen the Red Wings in the game once and it drew the best ratings so far. You don't need me to tell you the Red Wings have a big national following. The concern, though, is about the Leafs. Steve Lepore at Puck the Media, who watches ratings and media coverage closely, isn't optimistic.

I just don't see it, though. The Leafs are a well-known franchise, obviously. There are a ton of Leafs fans in the States, too. Just go to any of their road games to see how true that is. And no, they aren't all people who flew in just to watch the game (although some are, for sure). I don't see it being an issue for American ratings and it would help appease the Canadian fans who have felt a bit left out.

What would HBO think for its 24/7 series? Well there I don't know, but there's no guarantee it will even be back next season regardless.

But we can feel pretty safe in saying we do know the Winter Classic will almost assuredly be in Ann Arbor, Mich. next New Year's Day. And it's worth noting that Michigan Stadium now has lights, something that was new just this year. Remember that if the weather doesn't cooperate again (although that's doubtful in Michigan).

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.


Since: Dec 1, 2009
Posted on: January 14, 2012 12:20 am

Reports: Leafs-Wings at Big House all but done

"Is this guy an idiot???? Leaf fans will buy up more then half the tickets in the first 30 minutes, I will be one of them!"  --JAYS4LIFE

It's not the gate that's an issue; you could probably fill the Big House up for this using only alumni sales. It's a question of whether or not it'll take a hit in the ratings. NBC doesn't get credit from its buyers of commercial air time for Canadian eyeballs.

Since: Dec 13, 2008
Posted on: January 13, 2012 10:17 pm

Reports: Leafs-Wings at Big House all but done

Is this guy an idiot???? Leaf fans will buy up more then half the tickets in the first 30 minutes, I will be one of them!

Since: Jun 2, 2011
Posted on: January 13, 2012 10:13 pm

Reports: Leafs-Wings at Big House all but done

Leafs fans are rapid...Too great fan bases. Also, gets the Canadan market into this game. Smart move on all fronts.

Since: Sep 25, 2006
Posted on: January 13, 2012 9:59 pm

Reports: Leafs-Wings at Big House all but done

Before it was released I was thinking who would be an ideal opponent for the Wings for this game, and I thought of the Leafs, even though the Leafs don't think the Wings are their main rival, and they left the conference years ago.  The other choice would be the Hawks, but they've already played them in a WC. Another obvious choice could've been the Penguins, but I think the Leafs is "classic".

Since: Mar 20, 2011
Posted on: January 13, 2012 9:20 pm

Reports: Leafs-Wings at Big House all but done

I love the envy from ohio? You did plan an outdoor game in "The Jake" this weekend right? LOL! Classy is having your team invited to a second Outdoor Classic. LOL! I guess losing the greatest player to play the  game is classy too?

Since: Apr 8, 2007
Posted on: January 13, 2012 9:12 pm

Reports: Leafs-Wings at Big House all but done

lol wrong message board kid,go play in the toilet

Since: Apr 16, 2009
Posted on: January 13, 2012 8:30 pm
This comment has been removed.

Post Deleted by Administrator

Since: Aug 15, 2006
Posted on: January 13, 2012 8:10 pm

Reports: Leafs-Wings at Big House all but done

Fightclub wrote "They'll try any bush league gimmick to market this sport anymore". Goodess english's fightclub. You try's real hard. Only a hick doesn't know how to put words together, or understand hockey. 

Since: Nov 20, 2006
Posted on: January 13, 2012 7:51 pm

Reports: Leafs-Wings at Big House all but done

!)  Michigan is a decent team but the odds of them winning the Big 10 are fairly mediocre at best
Guess which Big Ten team had the best overall winning percentage this season? (Hint: Michigan)

They might be playing football a week after the Winter Classic, so it should not be a conflict! Wink

Since: Jun 7, 2007
Posted on: January 13, 2012 7:51 pm

Reports: Leafs-Wings at Big House all but done

That was for you Fightclub.

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