Next up for NHL: Saving the Winter Classic

Next up for NHL: Saving the Winter Classic
October 25, 2012, 10:15 am
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Barring the unlikely event that Gary Bettman and Don Fehr have arranged a secret meeting in a secluded cabin off Lake Muskoka, any hope of a full NHL season is likely to evaporate today without so much as a phone call.
Today is the deadline set by Bettman nine days ago when he proposed a 50-50 split in league revenue in an attempt to salvage an 82-game season beginning Nov. 2.

The players saw Bettman’s offer has a significant step forward in negotiations, but when their counter proposal two days later was only a modification of their previous proposals, talks abruptly broke off.

Since then, Bettman has made it clear the league’s 50-50 offer was its “best” proposal, and on Wednesday he indicated future offers to the players could be less attractive because of the loss of income from cancelled games.

So with today’s deadline about to pass, when is the next mile marker facing the NHL as it shifts its focus to salvaging an abbreviated season?

Most agree it’s Nov. 20. That’s the date many believe an agreement between the players and owners needs to be in place to salvage the 2013 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.

A record crowd of more 110,000 is expected in Ann Arbor for the Jan. 1 game between the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. The game is preceded by HBO’s month-long television series "24/7," which requires at least a month of game action for taping.

“It takes a lot of time, and it takes the commitment of a lot of money in order to put on the Winter Classic, and we’re going to have to go back and revisit,” Bettman said last week.

“But my understanding is at some point in the not too distant future we will have to commit many millions of dollars if we’re going to play the Winter Classic on January 1. Obviously, under these circumstances and all the uncertainty, we’re not going to commit many millions of dollars if we don’t think we’re going to have a deal.

“And so the Winter Classic timeframe, in terms of making that decision, is probably rapidly approaching. That’s a discussion I’m going to have to have internally to see when those commitments actually have to be made.”

While the Winter Classic is the signature event, there are dozens of events scheduled in Ann Arbor during the final two weeks of December. The Winter Festival is expected to draw big crowds to the Great Lakes Invitational featuring Michigan, Michigan State, Western Michigan and Michigan Tech, along with an Ontario Hockey League doubleheader and a game between the Wings' and Leafs' minor-league affiliates.