The National Hockey League on Friday canceled the 2013 Winter Classic, a move that surprised no one but seemed foreboding.
The popular and lucrative outdoor game, sponsored by Bridgestone, was to be played New Year’s Day between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. The league also announced Friday the Hockeytown Winter Festival events, set Dec. 16-31 at Comerica Park in Detroit, were being called off.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said "logistical demands" made the cancellations necessary. The league still is without a collective bargaining agreement, the NHL players continue to be locked out and CBA talks remain at an impasse.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr called the cancellations "unnecessary and unfortunate, as was the owners’ implementation of the lockout itself."
"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," Fehr said in a statement. "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."
Daly indicated Friday that CBA talks could resume soon. The NHLPA held a conference call Thursday and the union has asked that the first substantive meetings since Oct. 18 be held.
For the NHL, the decision to ax the Winter Classic followed a series of steps -- the lockout, the cancellation of preseason games, the cancellation of October regular-season games and then all November games.
It appeared inevitable the Winter Classic would be next. The NHL was obligated to build ice rinks in Michigan Stadium and Comerica Park for the events. It also was to pay $250,000 of the $3 million rental fee by Friday.
The league noted games had been scheduled with teams from the NCAA, American Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, high school and local minor hockey leagues. Those involved travel and hotel commitments.
Although Daly said the next Winter Classic would be held between the Wings and Leafs at Michigan Stadium -- he did not specify the year -- the loss of the game this season could cost the league at least $10 million in gate receipts. The league estimated 400,000 people would attend the events in Ann Arbor and Detroit.
The CBA squabble has centered over the core-economic issues of the division of annual hockey-related revenue and handling existing contracts. The league proposed a 50-50 split of revenue and a provision to "make whole" player contracts through deferred compensation. The union recently forwarded three proposals, all with a 50-50 revenue provision, but the league rejected them.
The NHL has pulled its proposal off the table.
Many NHL players have headed to Europe to play during the lockout. Hurricanes defenseman Jamie McBain said Friday he had signed a contract to play for the Lahti Pelicans of Finland’s SM-liiga and would leave Monday.
"Ideally, I’m only over there a week or two and I’ll come back," McBain said Friday.