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NHL Winter Classic could be canceled on Thursday

Greg Wyshynski
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The NHL's offices in New York are closed on Monday due to Hurricane Sandy, as Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr rent themselves out to coastal areas in need of massive amounts of sandbagging.

But when the storm passes, another blast of cold air will hit NHL fans: The Winter Classic is expected to be canceled on Thursday, according to Katie Strang of ESPN.com and the scuttlebutt we're heard elsewhere Monday.

This has been in the cards for weeks, obviously, as the cancellation of the schedule stretched through November. It's become less a concern that the NHL couldn't pull off the event in a truncated schedule — it totally could, even if the Classic kicked off a shortened 2012-13 season — than whether the NHL should attempt to stage the game with a proper run-up of marketing and with the bitter aftertaste of the lockout affected the good vibes of the annual event.

We shall miss you, awesome Winter Classic jerseys. At least for a year.

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The conventional wisdom is that if the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at the Big House is scrapped this season, the NHL will attempt to stage it again in 2014. The Winter Classic falls under the NHL's jurisdiction, but the ancillary events (like the alumni games) do not.

As the New York Times noted in August, the NHL and the University of Michigan anticipated the lockout could axe the Classic:

According to the contract, the N.H.L. will have the use of Michigan Stadium from Dec. 1, when construction of the ice rink on the stadium floor can begin, through Jan. 9, when removal of the rink must be finished. The game can be played only on Jan. 1 or, in case of bad weather, Jan. 2. There is no provision in the contract for the Winter Classic to be played at Ann Arbor later in 2013 because of a work stoppage or for any other reason, and Daly said last week that there was no other agreement to play the game later in the year.

The N.H.L.-Michigan contract stipulates that the league forfeit $100,000 if it cancels the Winter Classic before Nov. 3. On Nov. 3 or after, a cancellation would cost the league $100,000 and any expenses incurred by the university in connection to the game.

Nov. 3 is Saturday, for those without the benefit of calendars. (If you don't own one, might we suggest something with kittens.)

As Sean Fitz-Gerald covered recently, canceling the Winter Classic isn't canceling some random inter-conference game in October.

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It's a move that will cost the league, its teams, the locales in Michigan and other associated businesses countless millions. And as the NHL's signature event, it's going to raise the stakes in the U.S. as the traditional sports media (finally) brings the lockout to the forefront of the national conversation — predictably, on ESPN at least, in a "the NHL's such a joke" manner.

Check out Jeff Arnold's piece on how the Classic's cancellation would impact locally.

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