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NHL Lockout: Winter Classic canceled

By Adam Gretz | Hockey writer
You're going to have to wait until 2014 to see a hockey game at Michigan Stadium. (Getty Images)

The NHL lockout took perhaps its most significant turn yet on Friday when the league canceled the Winter Classic.

"The logistical demands for staging events of this magnitude made today's decision unavoidable. We simply are out of time," said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in a league statement. "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," Daly added.

The game has been held annually since 2008 on New Year's Day and has become the signature event of the regular-season schedule. The 2013 game was supposed to be the biggest one yet (in terms of attendance, anyway) and would have seen over 100,000 fans pack Michigan Stadium to watch the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.

And now it's done. Way before it had to be.

The game was just the latest casualty of the lockout -- the NHL's third since 1994 -- that has been going on since Sept. 15 and has already resulted in the cancellation of 326 regular-season games through the end of November.

But it didn't have to be done at this point. There were reports earlier in the lockout that the game could be canceled in November if a new CBA wasn't reached because the league didn't want the players using it as a leverage piece. In the end, that's exactly what the league ended up doing with it.

The concern now is what impact, if any, it will have on the remainder of the 2012-13 season.

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Some, including Detroit defenseman Ian White, fear that it could lead to the eventual cancellation of the entire season.

“If he's [commissioner Gary Bettman] willing to cancel that, I don't know why he'd want to play a season after that, because that's the highlight of the year,” White told Bob Duff of the Windsor Star on Tuesday. “So if he's willing to throw away that game, then the balance of the season, I would think, is definitely on the line. So it's terrible if that's what's going through his mind.”

While the game is a huge money-maker for the league and the host city (the revenue expected for this year's game was somewhere in the area of $70 million), it's still too early to fear that the entire season is doomed.

It was also too early for the league to make such a move and it was just the latest PR nightmare by a league that is all too familiar with them. It's made even worse by the fact that the move just doesn't make any sense for anybody.

Including the league.

The NHL has already committed $100,000 to the University of Michigan for use of the stadium, and an additional $250,000 was scheduled to be committed on Friday if the game wasn't canceled. That could be viewed as problem as the league wouldn't want to commit funds to a game that it wasn't sure would be played. But if the NHL canceled the game after Friday it only would have cost the league the initial $100,000 plus any expenses incurred by the school according to its agreement.

The rest was refundable.

The league was to have use of the stadium from Dec. 1 through Jan. 9 when the rink had to be completely removed.

Along with the game, the NHL also loses every event that went along with it. That includes the alumni game, the festivities that were to take place at Comerica Park (the home of the Detroit Tigers), and HBO's 24/7, which over the past two years had followed the teams for an up-close, behind-the-scenes look at their preperation for the game.

All of that is now gone, and nobody is really sure why. Or for what benefit.

It's a dark day for hockey fans and the league -- and just further proof that if there's a bad move to be made, the NHL will be more than willing to make it.

And just think: It was only a few months ago how commissioner Gary Bettman was talking about how the NHL now owned New Years Day.

Not this year.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

 
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