PHILADELPHIA — It’s not hard to imagine the Washington Capitals in the Winter Classic. Last season, they played at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh against the Penguins, but the dream is that spectacle at home.
“It would be unbelievable,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. “I’d like to think that everyone’s fighting for us to have one here.”
It won’t have to be much of a fight. Washington was assured of being a Winter Classic host, thanks to the Caps’ involvement as the visiting team last season. There is no official plan for when the NHL’s biggest regular-season show will come to the nation’s capital.
On every level, the organization would love to get the Winter Classic, which could rev up even more interest in hockey in the District as well as be a big-revenue event.
Saturday, NHL chief operating officer John Collins mentioned New York and Detroit as places the event could go after Philadelphia this year. That fits the pattern of visiting Winter Classic teams hosting soon after, but it also figures to mean Washington has a good place in line.
“We made that arrangement with the league that if you wanted us to play in Pittsburgh, you’ve got to make sure we’re playing here in the next couple years,” general manager George McPhee said before this season. “The league agreed to that.”
Next year is not looking likely for a D.C. Classic, with Detroit and Minneapolis serving as likely favorites. Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch also owns the Detroit Tigers, so Comerica Park might be a better bet than Michigan Stadium, otherwise known as “The Big House.” Target Field is another possibility.
The Capitals, though, know they’ll be rewarded soon enough - likely in 2014 or 2015.
“It was an honor for us to not only be selected for the 2011 game but also for the NHL to commit to bringing the Winter Classic to our fans,” owner Ted Leonsis said in an email. “We were extremely appreciative and look forward to the opportunity to showcase our great city and passionate fans. This is so much more than a one-day event. It is several days of pure hockey enjoyment that will be great for our fans and great for our city and surrounding communities.”
Saturday’s alumni game sold out with an attendance of more than 45,000 at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies’ stadium also is hosting a college game, a high school game and an American Hockey League game between Hershey Bears and Adirondack as part of the festivities. A similar experience could be in store in Washington.
One big question would be where to hold a Winter Classic here, with Nationals Park and FedEx Field figuring to be the prime candidates. Nationals owner Mark Lerner also is a partner in the Caps, and the park’s location inside the District and Metro accessibility helps its cause.
“I would probably prefer the Nationals Park because it’s a little bit closer,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It’s a pretty nice stadium. I think it would be pretty cool.”
Of the five Winter Classics, three will have taken place at baseball stadiums and two at football stadiums. FedEx Field could hold more fans, but Nationals Park offers better ambience and no concerns about having to work around the Redskins’ schedule.
But center Jeff Halpern, who grew up in Potomac, Md., raised an even more intriguing possibility.
“I think at some point they’ll do something in a completely different venue, whether it’s Central Park or, I think on the Mall in D.C. would be unbelievable,” the 35-year-old forward said. “If they could figure out a way to put bleachers in there for one game, I think something like that, playing in front of the [Washington] Monument, and the White House and the Lincoln, I think that’d be a great thing.”