The Globe and Mail’s David Shoalts gives a breakdown of the events that necessitated, at least in the league’s mind, the cancellation of the NHL’s marquee event.
In the week leading up to Friday’s cancellation of the Winter Classic, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the biggest consideration was the logistics of staging a bigger-than-usual event, not the stalled labour negotiations. With the game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs set for the University of Michigan and a two-week slate of events at a rink in Comerica Park in downtown Detroit, more preparation was required this year and the effort would be more expensive. The actual loss of a $100,000 (all currency U.S.) deposit to the university was only a small consideration. The hit to the local economy is still big: NHL chief operating officer John Collins estimated the game would have produced $75-million for the southeastern part of Michigan.
The tipping point may have been the result of the labour negotiations or, specifically, the enormous ill will between the owners, players and fans caused by the lockout. The players were angry about the prospect of playing in a game they think means more to the owners’ bank accounts than theirs and the fans were getting fed up with both sides.
NO SURE BET
Other considerations were a shrinking amount of time to sell all of the 115,000 tickets to the Classic and the other events in Detroit. Since the Detroit economy still has not recovered from the great recession, the unappetizing prospect of not selling out every event was growing. One NHL executive said, all things considered, the game is “starting to have a cloud over it. At some point, we can’t properly market it and have it be an exalted thing.” There was speculation Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch was growing leery of trying to play host to an event surrounded by such ill will and one that could still see some events cancelled if talks dragged on too long for the proper lead time. One source familiar with the Red Wings’ plans said “this makes sense.”
MAYBE NEXT YEAR
By cancelling the game now and scheduling the same teams for the 2013-14 game at Michigan, the thinking is that by then the feel-good aspect of the event can still be captured, providing the players and owners can settle their differences soon.
THEY SAID IT...
“The NHL’s decision to cancel the [Winter Classic] is 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. 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.”
Donald Fehr, executive director, NHL Players’ Association
“The logistical demands for staging events of this magnitude made [Friday’s] decision unavoidable. 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. We look forward to bringing the next Winter Classic and the Hockeytown Winter Festival to Michigan.”
Bill Daly, NHL deputy commissioner