The National Hockey League on Friday canceled a celebration of hockey that would have reverberated through the generations in Michigan and Toronto. It canceled what would have been the most lucrative event in League history. It canceled the one moment every season when the NHL gets it right, in the eyes of even the most ardent cynics in the U.S. sports media.
On Friday, the NHL canceled the 2013 Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, scheduled for New Year's Day at the University of Michigan's Big House.
The League began informing sponsors of the cancellation in the morning. Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com had the first breaking news, via Katie Strang:
A source familiar with the league's plan had told LeBrun the decision to cancel the game was green-lighted after an internal meeting at NHL offices in New York Friday morning.
… Although NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has stated that an entire 82-game season is no longer possible, the two sides can still broker a deal to salvage a shortened season.
A source confirmed to LeBrun that NHLPA special council Steve Fehr and NHL deputy commissioner have tentatively agreed to resume bargaining, however, no specifics about format, location and day have been agreed upon. The two sides have not traded proposals or met face-to-face for a formal bargaining session in over two weeks.
The NHL later announced that the next Winter Classic will still be held at the Big House at the University of Michigan, and that "Those who have purchased tickets for the 2012-13 events can either receive refunds or maintain their tickets for the future events. Ticket refund information for the 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival can be found at: nhl.com/winterclassicrefund."
The costs associated with this event's cancellation are immeasurable. How many throwback sweaters for the Wings and Leafs would have moved? How local businesses would have had a week of booming commerce?
The good news, via the AP, is that Michigan gets the game next season. But this moment for the NHL — setting an attendance record on NBC without the BCS playoff games sucking the air out of New Year's Day — has passed.
Along with the Winter Classic, the NHL's decision means no HBO "24/7" this season after two years of incredible, game-changing television; as well as the cancellation or postponement of alumni, junior, minor league and local games scheduled for the Hockeytown Winter Festival at Comerica Park.
Why do it? Why cancel the single most important even in the NHL season that doesn't involve a silver chalice being handed out at the end?
The League will say it's because the logistics — marketing, travel, promotion and the like — need a proper run-up to maximize the success of this once-in-a-lifetime moment.
But when USA Today is running headlines like "Players worry if Winter Classic is cut, season is next" and the NHLPA is holding conference calls on the eve of the expected cancellation … well, how is this not an extreme moment of posturing for the League?
So will Bettman just use the same speech next season? And was any of this said with today's events in the back of his mind?