For now, the Winter Classic between Toronto and Detroit, scheduled for New Year’s Day at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the all-star weekend, slated for Jan. 26-27 in Columbus, Ohio, remain on the schedule.
But without progress in negotiations, the Winter Classic, the league’s primary regular season moneymaker, could be eliminated as early as next week. The NHL will only forfeit $100,000 of its $3 million stadium rental fee to the University of Michigan if it cancels by Nov. 2.
“At some point in November we will have to commit many millions of dollars to get ready for the Winter Classic,” Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters Wednesday. “So if there’s still uncertainty, we’re going to have to make a decision. My guess is we’re not going to commit those dollars unless we have certainty.”
Friday’s cancellations, the third round of cuts since the lockout began on Sept. 16, marked the largest number of contests the league has wiped out at once this year. Eliminating a full month of games allows arenas time to book replacement events on the dates that would have been occupied by the NHL schedule.
Wiping away a significant chunk of games may also send more players to seek contracts overseas, as they will now miss two more paychecks this year. More than 150 locked-out NHLers are already playing in Europe, five Capitals among them: Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom with the KHL’s Dynamo Moscow in Russia; Brooks Laich with the Kloten Flyers in Switzerland; Wojtek Wolski with KH Sanok in Poland; and Michal Neuvirth with Sparta Praha in the Czech Extraliga.
The latest round of cancellations came a day after the league-imposed Thursday deadline to reach an agreement that would have saved a full 82-game season expired. The NHL also pulled its most recent offer with the passing of its cutoff date. The proposal featured a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues and a “make whole” provision that would rely on deferred payments from the players’ future share to ensure the value of existing contracts.
“By presenting a proposal to the NHLPA that contemplated a fair division of revenues and was responsive to Player concerns regarding the value of their contracts,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a news release, “we had hoped to be able to forge a long-term Collective Bargaining Agreement that would have preserved an 82-game Regular Season for our fans. Unfortunately, that did not occur.”
The NHLPA rejected the offer and on Oct. 18 presented three proposals of its own, which the league dismissed within 10 minutes. Since then negotiations have stalled, with no meetings in the past eight days and none scheduled. The NHL dismissed an invitation from the players to meet this week.
“The message from the owners seems to be: If you don’t give us exactly what we want, there is no point in talking,” Fehr said in a statement. “They have shown they are very good at delivering deadlines and demands, but we need a willing partner to negotiate. We hope they return to the table in order to get the players back on the ice soon.”