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NHL says 82-game season unlikely; Winter Classic on the chopping block this week?

Greg Wyshynski
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Considering the NHL and the NHLPA can't even agree on how and when to hold negotiations, attempting to salvage an 82-game season by Thursday's league-imposed deadline seems impossible. Both commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly reaffirmed that on Wednesday.

From the Canadian Press:

On Wednesday, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Canadian Press there is no way a full schedule can start after Nov. 2. The league has maintained that training camps would have to open by Friday in order for the season to begin a week later.

So cancellations ahoy for Thursday or Friday; the question is how deep will the cuts go into the regular season … and will the NHL's signature regular-season event, the Winter Classic, be among them?

Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review presumes that the Classic, scheduled for the Big House at the University of Michigan on Jan. 1, and various other events surrounding it will be canceled this week:

"We obviously take all stakeholder views and needs into account in making decisions in those events," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said of the Classic and All-Star Game in an email Wednesday.

"Everyone is interested in an earlier decision if at all possible so they can turn the page and try to redirect the business. We are sensitive to those needs."

The Tribune-Review first reported earlier this month that NBC, the NHL's national broadcast partner, had started planning for alternative programming to replace the Classic. HBO, which had produced the "24/7: Road to the Winter Classic" series each of the past two Decembers, must know by mid-November if that program can go off as planned.

Some people see the Classic as a proper starting point for the regular season, a week of good vibes to cleanse the hockey soul after the lockout. Others see it has unnecessary in a truncated season tainted by animosity and anger.

The bottom line about the Winter Classic: It's not something hastily staged.

The first events in the Hockeytown Winter Festival are scheduled for Dec. 15. The run-up to the Classic — including "24/7," travel packages and marketing efforts — precede that by weeks. We're talking about the schedules of college, minor-league and junior teams being impacted by a cancellation. We're talking about 115,000 fans at the Classic, and two alumni games. We're talking about the most lucrative regular-season event in the history of the NHL, and the decision whether to scrap it this season.

The NHL will cancel it before the NHLPA can use it as a pressure point. The NHL will cancel it if it feels there isn't enough time to properly promote it. It's not out of the question they'll cancel it this week.

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