The future of the NHL’s Heritage Classic

Alan Hudes

For the second consecutive season, the NHL schedule is missing a significant game: the Heritage Classic.

The all-Canadian outdoor matchup is nowhere to be found on the league's recently-released 2012-13 calendar; an event it hasn't scheduled since 2011 when the Calgary Flames hosted the Montreal Canadiens at McMahon Stadium. Though it's not much of a surprise given that the Toronto Maple Leafs will be the visiting team in next year's Winter Classic — assuming there isn't an extended lockout - the NHL has continuously neglected staging an outdoor game in Canada. The Calgary-Montreal event was only the second time the Heritage Classic took place, with the other occasion being in 2003.

Looking ahead to 2014 and beyond, here are the chances each Canadian team has of landing the next Heritage Classic game, and the potential venues in play.

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets appear to have the best shot at this point in time. Investors Group Field - the new home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers — is now scheduled to open at the start of the 2013 CFL season. The NHL is known for using its premier events (All Star Game, Entry Draft) to showcase new facilities and what better way than with the league's newest team. Plus, the Jets would no doubt love to hold an outdoor game there for their long-suffering fans, and 2014 seems quite appropriate as the venue will have just completed its inaugural football campaign.

Ottawa Senators: Assuming the City of Ottawa gets its new CFL franchise off the ground, the Senators could be very much on the NHL's radar for a Heritage Classic. The new Ottawa team is tentatively scheduled to kick off in 2014, at a redeveloped Frank Clair Stadium in Lansdowne Park — the only site where the Senators could host an outdoor game. You have to think that if that happens, the league wouldn't want to pass on the chance of holding a game in the elements in the nation's capital.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs will likely be forced to wait, since they will participate in the upcoming Winter Classic against the Detroit Red Wings at "The Big House" at the University of Michigan. But down the road, it isn't out of the question — especially in 2017 which is both the Leafs' and the NHL's 100th anniversary. Rogers Centre, with its 50,000-plus capacity is more than large enough for the outdoor festivities, but there are continued concerns that the stadium's retractable roof is unable to be used during the winter. A more likely scenario involves holding the game at BMO field, which would see its current seating of 22,000 temporarily increased to 30,000 for the event.

Vancouver Canucks: After hosting the Olympics and Stanley Cup final in consecutive years, Vancouver is likely on the outside looking in. Their lone venue in the city is also not that appealing either. Despite BC Place's recent renovation that saw a retractable roof installed, the stadium does not provide the same open air experience as others, with the field exposed but the stands covered. A potential back-up plan could be Centennial Stadium at the University of Victoria, which was expanded to hold 30,000 people for the 1994 Commonwealth Games.

Montreal Canadiens: The Habs are likely seen as last priority for hosting the Heritage Classic, given their previous road participations in both previous editions to date. When the time comes though, Montreal also has two options, but Olympic Stadium is not one of them. The building is no longer open in the winter after an old roof caved in a few years ago due to snowfall. Instead, the Canadiens will have to turn to Percival Molson Stadium — home of the Alouettes and McGill Redmen — or Saputo stadium which was just expanded for the expansion Montreal Impact of MLS.

Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames: Since the two Alberta franchises have already hosted the Heritage Classic, it probably won't return until to all the other Canadian squads have had a chance. That said, both events were a huge success at each city's CFL digs — Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton and McMahon stadium in Calgary.