The Toronto Maple Leafs will be turning the ripe old age of 100 years old during the 2017-18 NHL season. Though they haven't won the Stanley Cup since 1967 and very well may not be hosting a Stanley Cup Final around their centennial (it's OK to dream though, Toronto), they do wish to bring pretty much everything else the league has to offer to their city during or leading up to that season.
In an interview with Sportsnet, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke confirmed that the team is in the process of bidding to host the NHL's All-Star Game, Winter Classic and NHL Entry Draft as part of the 100th year, either in the lead up to 2017-18 or during. The club also has designs to bring the as yet unconfirmed 2016 World Cup of Hockey to Air Canada Centre, for which they are already reportedly the favorite. That event would most likely be held in September 2016.
To bring most of the NHL's marquee events to the city of Toronto over the course of a season or two is a home run swing for Leiweke and it's not terribly outlandish to believe the league will consider something like this.
"It's not a splash. I just think Toronto -- it's our 100th anniversary, and this is the greatest hockey city on Earth. I think we owe it to our fans. And we're telling the league that they owe it to our fans," Leiweke said. "They don't disagree, but we've got to go through a process to win it. I think we'll win it. I think we'll get there. But we got to go bid on it."
Sounds like Leiweke is going to do his best to push the angle of Toronto's historical importance to the league and the game, not to mention its economic infrastructure and the value of the Maple Leafs to the league. That's just what any good businessman would do, of course. But will it work?
Leiweke also noted in his interview with Sportsnet that the Montreal Canadiens got two major events in their centennial season in 2009 including the All-Star Game and NHL Entry Draft that year. What Toronto is planning is even bigger, however.
One of the challenges Toronto must meet is having a suitable venue to host the Winter Classic. As of right now, the only location is BMO Field, home of Toronto FC of Major League Soccer. The building is expected to be expanded to around 40,000 seats according to Leiweke and that could be done by 2017 after the city pledged $10 million to the club for expansion of the stadium.
Is it too crazy to believe? Well, here's the other angle. The NHL as a whole will also be turning 100 years old in 2017. So does that make it less likely for the league to hold all of their major events in Canada or does it make it more likely?
The league is probably already thinking up ideas on how to make all of 2017 special with events across the NHL's international footprint. There could be a lot more in store, but it's still very believable that Toronto gets its wish, perhaps spread out over the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons.
That said, MLSE will have to compete against everybody else who wants these marquee events. Sending them all to one city over one or two years would be a challenge for the league in terms of keeping 30 owners happy, but the league won't shy away from symbolism and nostalgia if it makes money. Toronto would make money and probably a large amount of it.
It's a bold maneuver from Leiweke and MLSE, but if any city has the heft to command such a haul from the league, it's probably Toronto.