Winter Classic next on chopping block

Winter Classic next on chopping block
October 29, 2012, 2:00 pm
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Too bad Gary Bettman and Don Fehr couldn’t have been staying in the same hotel in New York City this week, because it may take an act of God to get the two together and hammer out a new CBA for the NHL.

While Hurricane Sandy was preparing to batter the eastern seaboard on Monday, representatives from the NHL and the players’ union continue to say they are willing to meet, as long as it is on their terms.

But with no meetings scheduled between the two sides, the NHL is preparing for its next big cancellation announcement: the 2013 Winter Classic.

“No new news,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN.com in an email from the NHL headquarters in New York. “We withdrew our most recent proposal on Friday, and now we are spending time thinking about our next proposal and how best to get closer to a resolution.

“We hope the union is doing the same thing. Given the fact that the union refused even to discuss our last proposal, it would appear that we still have a large gulf to bridge.”

Fehr’s brother and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr says he’s ready to meet for new negotiations, but only if the NHL is willing to broaden its scope on a resolution to the 44-day-old lockout.

“Since the last bargaining meeting on Oct. 18, we have consistently made it clear to the League that we are ready to meet and are willing to discuss all ideas, certainly including their last proposal,” Fehr said in an email to ESPN.com. “The league has unfortunately continued to decline to meet. Their position makes it difficult to move the process forward, as it is obviously hard to make progress without talking.”

Barring a new round of talks occurring in the coming days – unlikely because of the impending threat of Hurricane Sandy -- the NHL is reportedly prepared to cancel the Winter Classic as early as Thursday.

This year’s Classic is scheduled for Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium between the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. It was expected to draw over 115,000 fans and bring millions of dollars in revenue to the city of Detroit and the NHL through sponsorships.

At the time of the Winter Classic announcement on Feb. 9, Bettman raved about the popularity of the NHL’s signature event, which has grown in stature in each of the last five years. This would be the first time a Canadian team is playing in the annual outdoor event.

“These two Original Six rivals will take the Winter Classic to a new record-setting level,” Bettman said at a news conference announcing the game.

“Since this game is going to be so big, it could only be played in one place. Even with 115,000 tickets available, we won’t have enough tickets to meet demand.”

If the Winter Classic is canceled, it likely will be rescheduled for Michigan Stadium on Jan. 1, 2014.  That, in turn, would postpone the possibility of the Capitals hosting a Winter Classic until 2015 at the earliest.