The NHL season, abandoned at least through the end of this month because of a lockout, took a big blow Friday when the league canceled its signature event, the lucrative outdoor Winter Classic. Toronto and Detroit were to have played in front of more than 100,000 fans and on national television Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich.
That news overshadowed the growing possibility that the NHL and the NHL Players' Association will resume formal negotiations as soon as early next week -- if some groundwork and parameters can be worked out over the weekend.
The NHL said that the same teams will meet in the same place at the next Winter Classic -- presumably in January 2014 if the two sides can reach accord on a new collective bargaining agreement. The league blamed the cancellation on not having enough time to meet commitments such as building the outdoor rink and confirming travel plans for many.
"The logistical demands for staging events of this magnitude made [the] decision unavoidable. We simply are out of time," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. "We are extremely disappointed, for our fans and for all those affected."
The Penguins participated in the inaugural Winter Classic in '08 in Buffalo, a game marked by picturesque falling snow and Penguins star center Sidney Crosby winning it in a shootout. The Penguins also played host to the '11 Winter Classic against Washington at Heinz Field, a game marked by a Crosby head/neck injury that limited him for the next 11/2 seasons.
For the '11 game, HBO filmed its first all-access "24/7 Road to the Winter Classic" series.
Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHLPA, reacted strongly to the league's move.
"The NHL's decision to cancel the 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic is unnecessary and unfortunate, as was the owners' implementation of the lockout itself," he said in a statement. "The fact that the season has not started is a result of a unilateral decision by the owners; the players have always been ready to play while continuing to negotiate in good faith. 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 for the fans."
Crosby understands the significance of the Winter Classic, but he is focused more on getting a deal done so teams can play as close to a full 82-game schedule as possible.
"As players, we realize how big [the Winter Classic] is," he said. "I think fans love it, and that's why they've tried to make it such a big deal with HBO and all that stuff. I think it is a big event, and I think they know how important it is to everyone.
"Whether that has enough bearing to affect whether [owners] get a little more desperate, I don't know, but if there was going to be desperation at this point, I think it would be to try to get as close to a full season as possible."
There has not been a formal negotiating session since the league quickly rejected three proposals from the NHLPA Oct. 18, two days after the league submitted a plan that called for a 50-50 split of revenues.
The players union has been pushing for talks to resume, and some headway in that area came Tuesday during a conversation between Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr.
The lockout began when the previous CBA expired Sept. 15. The league has canceled the schedule through Nov. 30, but some of those games conceivably could be made up if an agreement is reached and training camps open soon.
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: email@example.com and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published November 3, 2012 4:00 AM