NHL

NHL cancels Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium

11/02 7:33 PM

The NHL has decided to cancel the Winter Classic, which was slated to feature the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at the University of Michigan's football stadium in Ann Arbor on Jan. 1.

The NHL has canceled the Winter Classic, its annual outdoor showcase that was slated to feature the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at the University of Michigan's football stadium in Ann Arbor on Jan. 1, the league announced Friday.

In the meantime, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHL Players' Association special counsel Steve Fehr will meet Saturday at an undisclosed location to resume bargaining talks, sources on both sides told ESPN.com.

In the six weeks since the lockout began, the work stoppage has caused the cancellation of hundreds of regular-season games, significant revenue loss and what may be irreversible damage to the game's reputation.

Due to the cancellation of the Winter Classic, however, Friday was the darkest day yet.

"It's definitely very disappointing," Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard said about the canceled Winter Classic. "Not only was I looking forward to it but so were all my friends and family. It was going to be a great event not just for us but all the businesses and hotels and fans excited to see us and Toronto play."

A source familiar with the league's plan had told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun the decision to cancel the game was green-lighted after a final internal meeting at NHL offices in New York on Friday morning.

"The logistical demands for staging events of this magnitude made today's decision unavoidable. We simply are out of time," Daly said. "We are extremely disappointed, for our fans and for all those affected, to have to cancel the Winter Classic and Hockeytown Winter Festival events."

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr called the league's decision to cancel the Classic "unnecessary and unfortunate."

"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, and get the game back on the ice for the fans."

The annual outdoor game is the latest, and by far the most significant, of the lockout's casualties.

The game is not only a huge moneymaker for the league, but also is a signature event for hockey. Its cancellation does not bode well for what is to come.

"It's just a shame for the game," said Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, who is a suburban Detroit native. "You definitely feel for the city because of the opportunity it presents and how exciting it can be for the fans. You feel for them. It hurts the game."

The NHL also canceled all of the Winter Festival events scheduled for Dec. 16-31 at Comerica Park in Detroit.

The decision to cancel the contest was based on a number of factors, and logistics were a concern.

The league was tasked with a unique challenge this year in building two rinks -- one at "The Big House" and one at Comerica Park -- and has a contract with the former that requires the NHL to pay for any expenses occurred by the university if the event was canceled later than Nov. 2. The NHL also owed $250,000 of the $3 million rental fee on Nov. 2.

This is not believed to be the biggest deal-breaker, however.

The league did not want to host such an event without the usual bells and whistles -- HBO's "24/7" show documenting the event would have been virtually impossible to pull off -- and it did not want the pageantry of the event tainted by the work stoppage.

"That's one of those things that you were really looking forward to this year," Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "Everyone here, not only the players but the fans. Everyone would be bummed out."

The NHL said the next Winter Classic -- whenever it may be -- still will feature the Red Wings and Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium. Tickets for this year's canceled game will be honored for the next one.

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said the university's relationship with the NHL "has been terrific."

"This is an unfortunate announcement but one that looked imminent given the current labor situation between the NHL and its players," Brandon said in a statement. "We knew this was a possibility but we stayed prepared in the event the labor dispute would get resolved."

Some 400,000 people were expected in the area over the New Year's weekend, filling hotel rooms, restaurants and bars.

"We have been holding reservations for a lot of fans that were expecting to come," said Michael Harman, general manager of the Campus Inn in Ann Arbor. "So far, we have not received very many cancellations, but we do anticipate them."

The Winter Classic is touted by the NHL as a celebration of the game, so canceling it sends a tough message after a league-imposed lockout has wiped out almost the first two months of the season.

"I don't know if they're trying to send a message or what," Kronwall said. "I don't even know if they decide to cancel it, can they put it back on if we do come to an agreement? I think there's a lot of speculating."

The cancellation of the game does not spell the demise of the entire season, however.

Although NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has stated that an entire 82-game season is no longer possible, the two sides still can broker a deal to salvage a shortened season.

Daly indicated that canceling the Winter Classic doesn't necessarily mean more games in the regular season -- or the All-Star game -- will be wiped out soon.

"I don't foresee any further cancellation announcements in the near term," Daly wrote in an email to The AP.

He said it is "impossible" for him to say whether the Red Wings and Maple Leafs would play on Jan. 1 at Joe Louis Arena in the Motor City -- if a labor deal is reached.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.


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