With no Winter Classic, will there by a hockey season?
That seems to be the question everyone is asking in the wake of the NHL canceling the 2013 Bridgestone Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at the University of Michigan’s Big House.
Is the cancellation a death knell for the NHL’s 2012-13 regular season? Or is there still hope for a shortened season?
Let’s start by saying that Gary Bettman did not find it easy to walk away from one of the most popular and lucrative events on the NHL schedule.
The NHL would have paid the University of Michigan $3 million to build two rinks – one at Michigan Stadium and another at Comerica Park.
In return the 2013 Winter Classic would have brought in an estimated $30 million in revenue, more than the $25 million generated from last year’s event between the Flyers and Rangers at Citizens Bank Park.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said it was more than just the scheduled $250,000 payment that forced Friday’s cancellation of the Winter Classic.
“The logistical demands for staging events of this magnitude made today’s decision unavoidable. We simply are out of time,” Daly said in a statement. “We are extremely disappointed, for our fans and for all those affected, to have to cancel the Winter Classic and Hockeytown Winter Festival events.”
Many believe the Winter Classic was the last meaningful bargaining chip for the NHL and its players, who have not staged formal talks on a new CBA since the owners rejected three proposals by the players on Oct. 18.
NHL Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr called Friday’s announcement “unnecessary” and “unfortunate,” but remains hopeful the two sides will return to the bargaining table soon.
“The fact that the season has not started is a result of a unilateral decision by the owners,” Fehr said in a statement. “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.”
That return is expected to come next week, although no day or location has been set by either side.
How long can the NHL go before canceling the entire 2012-13 season? The last time the NHL conducted a shorted season was in 1994-95 when the schedule was reduced to 48 games. The NHL and its players came to an agreement on Jan. 11 that year and the league started play on Jan. 20.
With that in mind, to save an abbreviated season the NHL and its players would need to make some serious headway between now and Thanksgiving. That’s when the NBA and its players came to the agreement last year that salvaged a 66-game season.
After Friday’s cancellation of its biggest regular season event, a 66-game season would seem like a major victory for a league that is teetering on the brink of something far worse than a lockout -- irrelevance.