The NHL is finalizing discussions to bring an outdoor hockey game to Busch Stadium in 2017, multiple sources have told the Post-Dispatch.
The plan is not yet complete, but the league is strongly considering the city to host the "Winter Classic," in which the Blues' opponent could be the Chicago Blackhawks. There is also the option of the team playing in a "Stadium Series" game, but according to sources, the Cardinals are expecting to host a hockey game at Busch on Jan. 2, which is a potential date for next year's Winter Classic.
On Saturday, an NHL executive declined comment "at this point." The Blues also declined comment.
An announcement on the NHL's ninth Winter Classic venue and participating teams could come within the next week. The league is about two weeks behind the date that it unveiled Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., as the host of the 2016 Winter Classic. That game, which featured Boston and Montreal, was announced on Jan. 24, 2015 and played on Jan. 1, 2016.
The selection of St. Louis would be a strong feather in the city's cap considering the 2016-17 season will simultaneously mark the NHL's 100th anniversary and the Blues' 50th anniversary.
The Blues are already planning several marquee events to commemorate a half-century since they were one of six teams brought into the league as an expansion franchise in 1967-68. An outdoor game at Busch Stadium, which could attract nearly 50,000 fans, would be the crown jewel for the organization.
The Blues and Cardinals already share a strong bond, which was underscored when Blues owner Tom Stillman and Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III dropped a ceremonial puck together before a game at Scottrade Center Jan. 15. DeWitt, a close friend of Stillman's and a hockey enthusiast, has long been a proponent of hosting an outdoor game.
The city has patiently waited while 10 NHL teams have participated in the Winter Classic, including six who have made two appearances each. The concept of the league playing outdoors became so popular that it introduced the Stadium Series in 2014, leading to five more games in the last two years. In all, 15 of the 30 clubs have played in an outdoor game, and two more will be added when Minnesota and Colorado each host Stadium Series games later this month.
The Blues' first appearance is expected to come in a year when the NHL is using its premier events to showcase several of the expansion clubs celebrating anniversaries.
The LA Kings, one of those six clubs, were awarded the 2017 All-Star Game last week. The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, two others, are also expected to play in an outdoor game in 2017, ESPN.com recently reported.
It remains a possibility that Philadelphia and Pittsburgh could be chosen as next year's Winter Classic matchup, leaving the Blues to play in a Stadium Series game. But the uncertain availability of the football stadiums in those cities, which could be leading to the delay in the NHL's announcement, may work in the Blues' favor.
The traditional date for the Winter Classic is Jan. 1, but that falls on a Sunday next year and is the final day of the NFL regular season. Because New Year’s Day will be on that Sunday, the legal holiday is Jan. 2 — when most people will be off work and The Rose Bowl will be played.
The NHL would like to play the Winter Classic that day to avoid going head-to-head with the NFL. And if neither the Pittsburgh nor Philadelphia field is available, then the Blues and Busch might be the next-best option.
Toronto, where the Maple Leafs will be celebrating their centennial year in 2017, is also an option for the Winter Classic. But according to ESPN.com, the league could be concerned about oversaturating the market in a city that will host the World Cup of Hockey in September and the World Junior Championships in December.
Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch staff contributed information to this story.