Before the NHL canceled the month of November from the schedule, the league was threatening to call off some of the signature events of the season. Then Friday came and the cuts were announced while the Winter Classic stayed on the calendar. It seemed like maybe it was a bluff.
The NHL is expected to make a move on the Winter Classic very soon, perhaps nixing it from the schedule as soon as Thursday. From Katie Strang of ESPNNewYork.com:
Since rejecting the union's trio of proposals, the league has made two rounds of game cancellations. The latest, announced on Friday, wiped out the regular-season schedule for the month of November. A source familiar with the league's plan told ESPNNewYork.com that the league is expected to cancel the Winter Classic on Thursday, the source said.
It was actually expected that the Classic would be canceled on Monday, but Mother Nature has sort of delayed things. Considering Hurricane Sandy is wreaking havoc on the East Coast and New York City, there are a few days left to try to salvage the Classic (and the season) but it would seem to be highly unlikely that the two sides are going to get together in time to reach a deal to prevent the Winter Classic from being canceled. Now they can use Sandy as a scapegoat.
In other words, you can start preparing your fond farewells to the big game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., because it won't be happening. At least it's not happening this season, if the report is true. The fact that no site has been announced for the 2014 Classic would indicate that the next Classic could still be at the Big House. Or at least that's the hope. Seeing an NHL game in front of 110,000 fans would be incredible.
Because of the amount of planning that goes into the Winter Classic, this is a move that has to be done well in advance. I admit I'm surprised it got to this point. I did not think the league would let the Classic go just like that. It's become such a big event for the league, not only from a revenue standpoint but from a visibility standpoint.
That leaves the league in the rather unenviable position of trying to win back fans without its biggest game on the regular-season schedule. It's unfortunate, but at this point was unavoidable (or shall we say inevitable -- they could have avoided this all, obviously).
Still, canceling the Winter Classic this far out means there obviously isn't much hope within the league offices that a deal is close at hand. If there was a chance, the NHL would probably be willing to wait longer. This seems as clear a sign as anything that a deal is still a ways off.