The National Hockey League canceled the outdoor Winter Classic game scheduled for Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium as the player lockout reached its seventh week.
The league previously canceled regular-season contests through Nov. 30, bringing the total of dropped games to 327, or 27 percent of the 82-games-per-team season.
Cancellation of the outdoor game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs, the latest edition of what has become the NHL’s showcase for US TV audiences, was announced in a news release.
“The logistical demands for staging events of this magnitude made today’s decision unavoidable,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said yesterday. “We simply are out of time. We are extremely disappointed.”
Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players’ Association, said the cancellation of the game was “unnecessary and unfortunate, as was the owners’ implementation of the lockout itself.”
The NHL had until yesterday to cancel the Winter Classic to avoid paying additional fees to the University of Michigan for the rental of its 110,000-seat football stadium in Ann Arbor, the Canadian Press reported on Oct. 29. The league will forfeit a US$100,000 deposit already paid to the university, according to the report.
Dave Brandon, the school’s athletic director, said the contract would “remain intact” and be shifted to the next Winter Classic, which will be staged at Michigan Stadium.
“We knew this was a possibility, but we stayed prepared in the event the labor dispute would get resolved,” Brandon said in a statement.
With the Maple Leafs’ participation, this season’s game was going to feature a Canadian-based team for the first time in the event’s six-year history, possibly drawing one of the largest viewing audiences of any NHL contest.
The first five Winter Classic games rank among the six most-watched games in league history in the US. A record 4.5 million viewers watched last year’s contest between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.
The previously canceled contests include a Nov. 23 afternoon contest between the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins that was set to be the first nationally televised game of the season on Comcast Corp’s NBC network.
Team owners shut down the league when they could not reach a collective bargaining agreement with the players union. The league and union last met on Oct. 18 and no new negotiations are scheduled. The league’s most recent offer contained an even revenue split between owners and players. None of the union’s three counteroffers was accepted by owners.
“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,” Fehr said yesterday.
The players were locked out on Sept. 16, the day after the old collective bargaining agreement expired.