TROY – The NHL and its players moved one step closer to perhaps having another lost season after canceling one of its marquee events.
The league announced Friday that the Winter Classic, which was scheduled to be played at The Big House between the Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 1, 2013, will not take place this season.
“It sucks,” Wings forward Danny Cleary said. “I’m almost in disbelief, really. I think everybody was looking forward to the Winter Classic. It was going to be such a great event, not only for downtown Detroit with all the events, but in Ann Arbor, setting a record attendance.”
“It’s sad,” Wings defenseman Ian White said. “I was really looking forward to playing in that game. I’ve been looking forward to it since they announced it. I know everyone probably was. The state of Michigan was thrilled to have to it. It would have been a great event.”
The move seemed inevitable since the league owed the University of Michigan a payment of $250,000 on Friday with the rest of the payments scheduled for Dec. 7 ($1 million) and 28 ($1 million) and Dec. 28 ($650,000).
The league had already cancelled regular season games through the end of November, which totals 326 games.
“I think every game that’s canceled it increases the chances, especially a big event like this,” White said when asked if this could lead to the cancellation of the season. “I’m still optimistic. It kind of feels like they’re following the same playbook as the NBA, same time line with laying out different proposals, fortunately the NBA got a season in. Unfortunately, it took them that long to do it. If there’s any optimism for us, it seems to be going the same strides as the NBA.”
The league did announce that the game next season would also take place at The Big House.
“It’s surprising people actually have the courage to cancel something like that when so much relies upon it and so many people are looking forward to it,” White said. “I think to this point we’ve already had some damage that won’t be able to be undone to our sport. They just continue to pile it on. It actually embarrasses me as a player. You go out in public, people view us differently from this. The NHL just continues along this path.”
The players were locked out at midnight on Sept. 16.
This is the third lockout under NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s watch.
The first, in 1994-95, ended after 103 days. The last time the league locked the players out it resulted in the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.
“Over 50,” Cleary said when asked what he thought the odds were for still having a season. “I really do feel that there’s something that can be done, we just have to find a way to honor player contracts. If we can find a way do that, we’ve got hockey. I think that’s as plain as I can (say) it. The other systems, player contracting issues, I think can be negotiated, bargained. They’ve already come back off a little bit. We can find a way to work that.”