Multiple outdoor games discussed

DETROIT -- The NHL officially announced the 2014 Winter Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings to be played on New Year's Day but it's sounding like it won't be the lone outdoor game next season.

NHL COO John Collins said the league is in high level discussions with the NHL's Board of Governors, interested teams and the NHLPA about expanding the U.S. outdoor game schedule beyond the Winter Classic as soon as next season. In 2011, the league hosted both the Winter Classic and Heritage Classic, but the Heritage has traditionally been between two Canadian teams.

"It's not necessarily a new conversation," Collins said on Sunday. "We've been looking at this and talking about it for a while. I think now, we're looking at it real hard."

The motivation for more American outdoor games is simple. The Winter Classic is a huge success each year for the NHL in driving interest and revenue for the game.

"It's no secret that lots of cities and lots of teams have said we really want one of these ... that doesn't mean we're doing it. We're aware of the tremendous interest. Obviously we can't ignore the interest," commissioner Gary Bettman said regarding the possibility of multiple outdoor games being played.

There's no shortage of interested cities in hosting the game and Collins said expanding the outdoor idea is an opportunity for the league to get an outdoor game in markets that might not work nationally for the Winter Classic game and also for markets that recently hosted the game, opening up the possibility of a quicker return of outdoor hockey to cities like Boston, Chicago and Pittsburgh.

"We've always said, how do we get to more markets and share this experience?" Collins said. "We know that there a lot of markets where the concept of an outdoor regular season game would be magical and really fantastic."

One market that has made its interest known is Los Angeles, where the Kings have confirmed they are interested in hosting an outdoor game next season. The Anaheim Ducks would love to be their opponent.

Kings spokesman Mike Altieri said Sunday that the defending Stanley Cup champions are aggressively working to get plans in place for an outdoor game in Southern California, although nothing has been finalized.

The risk is in diluting the popularity of the Winter Classic, which has quickly become a New Year's Day staple for hockey fans. The reward is having major regular-season events on days outside of Jan. 1.

"There are people who say that you would dilute what is a good and special thing," Collins said. "No one would be more concerned about not screwing up a good thing than we would be ... you have to weigh that with increasingly what's the impact in the local market."

The NHLPA is on board with the expansion of the outdoor schedule, according to NHLPA executive Mathieu Schneider.

"I think if we can expand it to bring the experience to more hockey fans throughout the world, that would be tremendous," he said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.