NHL Cancels Winter Classic As Lockout Claims Another Casualty

NHL Cancels Winter Classic As Lockout Claims Another CasualtyANN ARBOR, Mich. — The NHL has canceled the 2013 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.

The signature event between the
Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs is the latest casualty from
the labor dispute that has put the season on hold, a person familiar
with the situation told The Associated Press on Friday. The person, who
spoke on condition of anonymity because the league had not yet announced
the move, said the NHL will schedule its next Winter Classic at the
iconic stadium that seats more than 100,000 people.

There have been no labor
negotiations since Oct. 18, when the players' union countered a league
offer with three proposals. Those were all quickly rejected by the NHL.
Since then, a league-imposed deadline to play a full season has passed,
and last week the NHL cancelled all games through Nov. 30.

Detroit and Toronto, two of the
league's Original Six teams, were scheduled to play outdoors on Jan. 1
at the stadium known as the Big House and the league was hoping the
matchup would break the world record for hockey attendance. Michigan and
Michigan State's hockey teams drew a record 104,173 fans in 2010.

Buffalo, Chicago, Boston,
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have all hosted the Winter Classic, but the
crowd for a game at Michigan Stadium was expected to draw the league's
largest crowd with tens of thousands of fans coming from Canada to see
its first team play in the event. The last Classic at Philadelphia's
Citizens Bank Park drew 46,967, and the New York Rangers beat the host
Flyers 3-2.

The labor dispute, which began
Sept. 16, had already forced 326 games to be wiped out from Oct. 11
through Nov. 30, but losing the sixth annual outdoor extravaganza is the
biggest blow yet for the league and its players.

In the rental agreement between
the NHL and the University of Michigan, there was a clause regarding a
cancellation due to a work stoppage. If the game was called off by
Friday, the NHL would lose only a $100,000 deposit that it already paid.
The league would incur further losses, including paying back Michigan
for expenses it made, if a decision to wipe out the game came after
Friday.

The NHL was to pay a total of $3
million — over multiple installments — to rent Michigan Stadium. A
$250,000 payment was scheduled to be made Friday.

The cancellation is a strong
reality check that this fight between the league and the players'
association has no end in sight. The sides have remained in contact in
recent days, but none of those discussions have led to any new
negotiations.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill
Daly
and players' association special counsel Steve Fehr have spoken
several times over the course of this week and seem to be moving closer
to setting up a time to get together.

Daly said that Superstorm Sandy didn't prevent the sides from returning to negotiations this week.

"No meetings have been scheduled
yet, but we have had an ongoing dialogue," Daly wrote in an email to
The Associated Press on Friday.

The NHL has already said that it
will be impossible to play a full regular-season because of the
lockout, and even if the league is able to reschedule some games that
were previously called off, it seems unlikely that the Winter Classic
can be moved to a new date or location this season.

The league has said a deal
needed to be completed by last week in order to have a full season,
beginning on Nov. 2. It didn't happen. The All-Star game, and perhaps
the entire season, could be next on the chopping block.

In its most recent proposal, the
NHL offered the union a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues, which
exceeded $3 billion last season, but that offer was rejected. The
players responded with their three offers that went nowhere.

The NHL proposal was contingent
on the league playing a full season, which now won't happen. The league
has called that its best offer and has since pulled it back.

"Last week we had a proposal to
save a full season on the table. That has since been withdrawn," Daly
told the AP. "That creates a different environment for talks."

Players earned 57 percent of
revenue in the recently expired contract, in which a salary cap was
included for the first time. Owners originally sought to bring that
number below 50 percent this time before their most recent offer. The
players' association tried to get talks restarted last week, but was
turned away by the NHL because the union declined to agree to bargain
off the framework of the league's offer or issue another proposal with
the league's offer serving as a starting point.

Players want negotiations to resume without any preconditions.

There is a major divide between
the sides over how to deal with existing player contracts. The union
wants to ensure that those are all paid in full without affecting future
player contracts. League Commissioner Gary Bettman expressed a
willingness to discuss the "make whole" provisions on existing
contracts, but only if the economic portions of the league's offer are
accepted first by the union.

This is the third lockout in
Bettman's tenure. The first forced a shortened 1994-95 season, and the
second led to the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season — the only
time a major North American professional sports league lost a full
season to a labor dispute.

This Winter Classic was the
first one scheduled for a college stadium — the previous five were
played in NFL or MLB stadiums — and the first to plan other ice
events in a different venue as part of the celebration.

Comerica Park, home to the
American League champion Detroit Tigers, was supposed to host The
Hockeytown Winter Festival and the NHL Alumni Showdown. Those events are
also casualties of the lockout.

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