NHL Cancels Winter Classic
The NHL has decided to cancel the Winter Classic, which was slated to feature the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at the University of Michigan’s football stadium in Ann Arbor on January 1, a source told ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun on Friday.
In the six weeks since the lockout began, the work stoppage has caused the cancellation of hundreds of regular-season games, significant revenue loss and what may be irreversible damage to the game’s reputation.
Friday, however, was the darkest day yet.
“It’s definitely very disappointing,” Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “Not only was I looking forward to it but so were all my friends and family. It was going to be a great event not just for us but all the businesses and hotels and fans excited to see us and Toronto play.”
A source familiar with the league’s plan had told LeBrun the decision to cancel the game was green-lighted after a final internal meeting at NHL offices in New York on Friday morning. The league is expected to announce the cancellation on Friday afternoon.
The annual outdoor game is the latest, and by far the most significant, of the lockout’s casualties.
The game is not only a huge money-maker for the league, but also a signature event for the game, and its cancellation does not bode well for what is to come.
“It’s just a shame for the game,” said Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, who is a suburban Detroit native. “You definitely feel for the city because of the opportunity it presents and how exciting it can be for the fans. You feel for them. It hurts the game.”
The decision to cancel the game was based on a number of factors and logistics was a concern.
The league was tasked with a unique challenge this year in building two rinks — one at “The Big House” and one at Comerica Park and has a contract with the former that requires the NHL to pay for any expenses occurred by the university if the event was canceled later than November 2. The NHL also owed $250,000 of the $3 million rental fee on November 2.
This is not believed to be the biggest deal-breaker, however.
The league did not want to host such an event without the usual bells and whistles — HBO’s “24/7″show documenting the event would’ve been virtually impossible to pull off — and it did not want the pageantry of the event tainted by the work stoppage.
“That’s one of those things that you were really looking forward to this year,” said Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall. “Everyone here, not only the players but the fans. Everyone would be bummed out.”
The Winter Classic is touted by the NHL as a celebration of the game, so canceling sends a a tough message after a league-imposed lockout has wiped out almost the first two months of the season.
“I don’t know if they’re trying to send a message or what,” Kronwall added. “I don’t even know if they decide to cancel it, can they put it back on if we do come to an agreement? I think there’s a lot of speculating.”
The cancellation of the game does not spell the demise of the entire season, however.
Although NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has stated that an entire 82-game season is no longer possible, the two sides can still broker a deal to salvage a shortened season.
A source confirmed to LeBrun that NHLPA special council Steve Fehr and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly have tentatively agreed to resume bargaining; however, no specifics about format, location and day have been agreed upon. The two sides have not traded proposals or met face-to-face for a formal bargaining session in over two weeks.
What will come of that conversation remains to be seen.
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