NHL follies continue: Winter Classic cancelled

Thanks to Yardbarker

After wild speculation for much of the last week, the National Hockey League  made it official on Friday afternoon, cancelling the 2013 Winter Classic.

The game, scheduled for January 1 at Michigan Stadium to be contested by the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings, would have been the sixth annual outdoor contest and the fifth to take place on the first day of the calendar year.

“The logistical demands for staging events of this magnitude made today’s decision unavoidable. We simply are out of time,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in a statement issued a short time ago. “We are extremely disappointed, for our fans and for all those affected, to have to cancel the Winter Classic and Hockeytown Winter Festival events.

“We look forward to bringing the next Winter Classic and the Hockeytown Winter Festival to Michigan,” Daly added.

Word came down on the same day that the NHL was on the hook for a large payment to the University of Michigan for use of the Big House on its big day. It would have been the first of four disbursements, according to TSN of Canada — three occurring before the game itself and one following its proposed completion.

It is a disappointment in many respects, primarily due to its standing as a signpost in the ongoing stalemate in Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations which precipitated excision of regular-season games, now at 327 with more on the horizon.

With a capacity of 109,901 and a record crowd of 114,804 set just last year, the venue called home by the Michigan Wolverines would have, by far, provided the league with its greatest possible attendance for this event, which began in 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium — home to the Buffalo Bills — in Orchard Park, New York.

Additional info from the league release stated:

 The National Hockey League today announced the cancellation of the 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. The game was scheduled for Jan. 1 between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. In addition, the League announced all SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival events scheduled for Dec. 16-31 at Comerica Park in Detroit are cancelled.

The next NHL Winter Classic – featuring the Red Wings and Maple Leafs – and Hockeytown Winter Festival will take place at the University of Michigan and Comerica Park, respectively. Those who have purchased tickets for the 2012-13 events can either receive refunds or maintain their tickets for the future events. Ticket refund information for the 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival can be found at: nhl.com/winterclassicrefund.

The cancellation was necessary because, given the absence of a Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL Players’ Association and the NHL, the League was not in a position to do all that is necessary to adequately stage events of this magnitude. This year’s Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and the companion SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival called for the construction of major outdoor rink facilities at both Comerica Park and ‘The Big House’. Multiple games involving teams from the NHL, NCAA, American Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, high school and local minor hockey leagues were scheduled, requiring travel and hotel commitments.  Beyond the construction of two major outdoor rink facilities, the combined events were preparing to welcome nearly 400,000 guests to Detroit and Ann Arbor over the holiday period.

That confirms an earlier Associated Press report which indicated the Wings would get another crack at hosting without being skipped. That’s at least some solace for fans, who have seen All-Star Games subject to the vagaries of the league’s labor issues (1995, 2005, 2013) and Olympic sojourns (2002, 2006, 2010).

“When I was with Major League Baseball, we played almost every game outdoors and the fans loved it,” said NHLPA boss Donald Fehr, quite sardonically, in his own statement. “The players want to play outdoors. They’ve said that since the start.

“The NHL’s decision to cancel the 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic is unnecessary and unfortunate, as was the owners’ implementation of the lockout itself.  The fact that the season has not started is a result of a unilateral decision by the owners; the players have always been ready to play while continuing to negotiate in good faith. We look forward to the league’s return to the bargaining table, so that the parties can find a way to end the lockout at the earliest possible date, and get the game back on the ice for the fans.”

No sense in crying over the spilled milk now.

A few reminders — the NHL and NHLPA have not had a joint bargaining session since October 18, and the league did not decide to blow out the 2004-05 season until mid-February. So, there is time to salvage a season. Both sides have to want it. And more than issuing public statements that they want it, they have to show it. That hasn’t happened yet.