The 2017 NHL Winter Classic is an upcoming regular season outdoor National Hockey League (NHL) game that will be held on January 2, 2017.
The game was announced on March 9, 2016 after news of the matchup had been leaked on February 7, 2016 before the details had been finalized and will be a part of four outdoor regular season games during the 2016-17 NHL season.
The St. Louis Blues will be playing in their first ever outdoor game. St. Louis had expressed interest in the game as early as 2011.
The Blackhawks will be playing in their third Winter Classic, following appearances in 2009 and 2015; with the appearance, the Blackhawks will have appeared in the contest more times than any other team.
It is also the fourth consecutive year (and fifth overall) in which the Blackhawks play an outdoor game, having also played the 2014 and 2016 Stadium Series in addition to the 2015 and 2017 Winter Classics.
This will be a matchup of the storied Blackhawks–Blues rivalry, both members of the NHL's Central Divsion.
The game is being held in St. Louis to mark the 50th anniversary of the Great Expansion of 1967, in which the Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars (now the Dallas Stars) and the California Golden Seals (predecessors to the current San Jose Sharks) were formed, doubling the league's size.
The Flyers and Penguins were another candidate for the 2017 Winter Classic, but scheduling conflicts with the National Football League in both cities and winterization concerns regarding Beaver Stadium (a neutral site stadium discussed as another possibility for a Flyers–Penguins outdoor contest) led St. Louis to be chosen instead; St. Louis became available when its most recent NFL team, the Rams, relocated to Los Angeles in January 2016. The Flyers and Penguins will instead play a Stadium Series game in Pittsburgh later in 2017.
The league then considered having BMO Field and the Toronto Maple Leafs host the 2017 Winter Classic against the New York Rangers, but the 2016 NHL Winter Classic which featured the Montreal Canadiens, received the lowest U.S. ratings in the game's history.
Jon Miller, president of NBC Sports programming, credited the poor ratings to multiple factors, including several bowl games involving teams from markets that are popularly associated with hockey, not being held at a sufficiently iconic venue and most prominently, the presence of a Canadian team.
Miller argued that having all-U.S. matchups in the Winter Classic helps to guarantee local viewership that counts towards NBC's ratings.
The NHL ultimately announced on March 9, 2016 that there would be two outdoor games during New Year's week.
First, as January 1, 2017 falls on a Sunday, the NHL followed the precedent of the 2012 NHL Winter Classic and college football bowl games by scheduling the 2017 Winter Classic game between the Blackhawks and Blues for Monday, January 2 instead of its customary New Year's Day scheduling.
The league will also hold a special outdoor game on January 1st: the Centennial Classic, between the Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings at BMO Field (itself a re-match of the 2014 Winter Classic). This game will commemorate the centennial seasons of both the Maple Leafs and the NHL as a whole.