Sabres 'hosting' 2018 Winter Classic vs. Rangers reportedly saves MSG $40M

When the NHL unveiled plans for its 2018 Winter Classic, New York garnered attention not only because the Big Apple was deemed the host of the 10th annual outdoor game but also because two "local" teams, the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres, were slated to square off with each other.

Now, it has been made apparent that the Sabres -- not the Rangers -- will be counting the Classic as a home game, even though the event will take place at Citi Field, home of baseball's New York Mets and hundreds of miles away from Buffalo.

The likely reason, according to state property tax laws unearthed by Jon Campbell of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle?

Money.

Well, go figure.

But handing the Sabres "home ice" at Citi Field was hardly for better marketing or for either team to pocket a small chunk of change.

No, instead, the most obvious reason for Buffalo dropping its 2017-18 regular-season slate at KeyBank Center to 40 games appears to be neither the teams nor the NHL wanting to risk Madison Square Garden, the Rangers' home arena, losing a property-tax exemption of more than $40 million.

Basically, as Campbell outlines with state law citations, if any Rangers home games are played outside of Madison Square Garden, property taxes would immediately kick in against that arena.

The NHL, of course, has not offered reasoning for the Sabres calling the Winter Classic a home game -- Campbell says the league called the decision the result of "a variety of factors," and spokesmen from both the Rangers and Sabres did not provide additional comments. But the writing is on the wall.

Here's more from Campbell's report:

Supporters of the exemption argue the draw of the teams — which play more than 80 combined home dates a year at the Garden — benefits the city financially.

The value of the exemption has grown in recent years, fueled largely by major renovations to the Garden from 2011 through 2013.

For New York City's coming fiscal year, the tax break is expected to cost the city about $42 million, according to the NYC Independent Budget Office. Prior to the renovations, the exemption topped out at about $17 million.

This will be the Rangers' third outdoor game after they played two at Yankee Stadium in January 2014 as part of the NHL's Stadium Series. The Rangers were the visiting team for both games, against the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders.

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