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Michigan’s 2013 Winter Classic canceled by NHL

Signature event is latest casualty of lockout

- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2012

It's not hard to draw parallels between the NBA lockout of 2011 and the NHL lockout of 2012. Just listen to commissioners David Stern and Gary Bettman and players representatives Billy Hunter and Donald Fehr, or consider the volleys of offers made by both sides so far.

If that pattern keeps up, hockey folks can draw optimism from the fact that the 2011-12 NBA season wasn't wiped out.

"I know with basketball last year, I think they started on Christmas Day and they had a pretty successful season," Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said.

The NBA got a deal done in time to save its signature Christmas Day games. The NHL on Friday canceled its premier event as the Winter Classic became the most recent casualty of the lockout.

The NHL said in a statement that it was not in position, without a new CBA, to "adequately stage events of this magnitude."

Scheduled for Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, the 2013 Winter Classic was expected to break attendance and revenue records.

"The logistical demands for staging events of this magnitude made today's decision unavoidable. We simply are out of time," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. "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."

The 2014 event is set to return to Michigan Stadium. The NHL said in its release that fans who purchased tickets can maintain them for next season or get a refund.

Asked last week what the cancellation of that event would mean from the league's standpoint, NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr was blunt.

"It reinforces the notion that the NHL isn't interested in the money," Fehr said. "I hope they don't do it."

But they did just that, on the day the league was due to make its first payment to the University of Michigan.

Commissioner Gary Bettman warned in recent weeks that the time and money needed to put on the Winter Classic could require its cancellation earlier than most had hoped.

There was a feeling from those within hockey that the Winter Classic gave the perfect start date to a shortened season. It appeared almost impossible to comprehend in September that the NHL would pull the plug on it without trying every last-ditch effort to save it.

"It's a great event, so you would hope that that would be a last resort on both sides," Boston Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said "I don't see where anybody gets any advantage in that being gone like I don't see why missing games is helping anybody. But I guess they seem to be using that as a negotiating tactic, it looks like."

With a 2014 do-over at the "Big House," Washington must wait until at least 2015 to host the Winter Classic.

When the Capitals visited the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field, it was believed that they would get the event here sooner rather than later. Nationals Park figures to be the most ideal location, given that owner Ted Leonsis already ruled out the feasibility of doing it on the National Mall.

With Friday's cancellation, the 2013 Winter Classic is not feasible at all.

For players who already saw 326 regular-season games wiped out by this lockout, this move cannot be seen as a surprise. Kane called the most recent cutting of games a "scare tactic" by owners trying to flex muscles in these collective bargaining talks.

Getting rid of the Winter Classic, while not a large piece of the league's $3.3 billion in revenue, looks like the biggest show of leverage yet.

"They've done all this so far because they can," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "It's almost to the point where you kind of believe they're excited to do this just because they're the NHL, they're the owners."

With no formal talks scheduled as of mid-day Friday, it's uncertain how many more cancellations are upcoming.

"We're just kind of waiting to see what happens next," Toews said. "Us players are staying patient, and that's all we can do right now."

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