ONE of the NHL's newest and most popular events, the Winter Classic outdoor game on New Year's Day, is the latest casualty of the labour dispute between the league and the NHL Players Association.
The Jan. 1 game at University of Michigan Stadium between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, as well as two weeks' worth of other games and activities at Comerica Park in Detroit, were scrubbed by the league on Friday afternoon.
All regular-season games for October and November, as well as training camps and pre-season, are out the window so far as the sides continue to fail at dividing up what was a $3.3 billion hockey-revenue pie in 2011-12.
"The logistical demands for staging events of this magnitude made today's decision unavoidable," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in the league's announcement. "We simply are out of time. We are extremely disappointed, for our fans and for all those affected, to have to cancel the Winter Classic and Hockeytown Winter Festival events."
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr reacted swiftly to the cancellation, calling it unnecessary.
"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," Fehr said in a statement. "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."
Friday morning at the MTS Iceplex, before the league's announcement was made, locked-out NHL players were asked about the expected cancellation.
"Obviously it's a huge event for both sides," said Jets centre Jim Slater. "It's a great revenue-maker and it's a fun experience for everybody that's involved.... it's a sad day because it is such an important event not only for the league but the players."
Slater is a Michigan native and said the events will be missed this winter.
"It's not just the NHL but a lot of games scheduled around there, a big college tournament, some American League games and some OHL games, so it was going to be a huge weekend for the state of Michigan and hockeytown there, Detroit," he said.
"I'm sure if it does get canceled, we'll get it back in the following years and it'll be just a great event for everybody involved."
Jets captain Andrew Ladd said the Winter Classic cancellation is a subtraction for everybody.
"That's a big event, especially for the U.S. market," Ladd said. "It's something that's helped grow our game immensely in the years that it's been here.
"To lose that game, I think is or will be really disappointing, something we don't need as a league."
Ladd didn't seem interested in framing the cancellation as a tactic.
"At this point you never know," he said. "It seems like they've had a game plan since the start. I'm sure in every negotiation, they have one. But at this point, I think it would be nice to just get rid of all that junk and actually start negotiating.
"But they seem to have their terms and they only want to meet on those terms. From our standpoint, that's not going to get a deal done."
An NHL source said Friday that even if an agreement were to arise from the mess soon, there was zero chance the Winter Classic and associated games and activities could or would be rescued for this year, or even later in the season. The Wings and Leafs, though, will be first in line to play the a New Year's Day outdoor game after a labour agreement is struck.
UNIVERSITY of MICHIGAN
Jan. 1: Toronto Maple Leafs at Detroit Red Wings
Dec. 31: Maple Leafs alumni vs. Red Wings Alumni (2 games)
Dec 30: Toronto Marlies at Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
Dec. 29: Windsor Spitfires at Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Dec. 29: London Knights at Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
Dec. 27-28: Great Lakes Invitational, 4 games (NCAA)
Dec. 16-26: High school and youth games had also been scheduled.