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Was canceling the Winter Classic what CBA negotiations needed?

Nov 5, 2012, 3:11 PM EDT

2013 Winter Classic

For some, the cancelation of the 2013 Winter Classic was the worst moment of the lockout.

But could it also be the most important?

Friday’s scrapping of the NHL’s annual outdoor game was met with doom and gloom. The Winter Classic is, after all, the league’s signature regular season event and a television ratings bonanza.

Canceling an event of this nature was significant. In addition to the public relations nightmare and lost viewership, an estimated economic impact of $30-$35 million fell by the wayside.

So too did the Hockeytown Winter Festival and, at the risk of getting all schmaltzy on you, the joy and excitement of the 80,000-90,000 people that had already purchased tickets.

The impact of the cancelation resonated with players. Red Wings defenseman Ian White, who was set to participate in the Winter Classic, said as much to the Windsor Star:

“If [Gary Bettman's] willing to cancel that, I don’t know why he’d want to play a season after that, because that’s the highlight of the year,” he explained. “So if he’s willing to throw away that game, then the balance of the season, I would think, is definitely on the line.”

Bettman’s reputation precedes him in these instances. This is the third lockout of his 19-year tenure as NHL commissioner, and he remains the only commissioner in North American pro sports to lose an entire season to a work stoppage.

Fear that scrapping the Winter Classic would lead to a canceled season might’ve been very real for players. Perhaps that’s why, during Thursday’s conference call, NHLPA members expressed they wanted their leadership to do more negotiating.

Something else to consider…

We’ve seen past instances where labor negotiations were kickstarted by a significant event — a recent example came during the NFL-NFLRA lockout, which started in June and lasted nearly four full months, with replacement officials working all four weeks of the preseason and 48 regular season games.

Despite both sides appearing entrenched in their respective positions and far from a deal, the work stoppage was solved in 48 hours after a highly publicized incident during Seattle’s 14-12 victory over Green Bay on Monday Night Football.

A controversial, game-deciding touchdown call by a replacement official was roundly criticized — on-air, ESPN color commentator Jon Gruden called it “tragic and comical” — and within days, the regular officiating crews were back working games.

Now back to hockey.

On Friday, the Winter Classic was canceled.

Within 48 hours, the following happened:

– News leaked of the NHL making concessions to its “Make Whole” policy.

– NHL commissioner Bill Daly met with NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr for a lengthy discussion that “covered a lot of ground.”

– Reports surfaced that the NHL and NHLPA were set to resume meetings this week.

All of which begs the question: Did the lockout just have its Golden Tate moment?

  1. noisetheorem - Nov 5, 2012 at 3:24 PM

    Until there is an agreement, both sides can kiss my Golden Tate.

  2. silversun60 - Nov 5, 2012 at 3:26 PM

    I think it eliminated any perceived leverage the NHLPA had over the league. I’d bet the NHLPA’s thinking was “They want the Winter Classic… think of how much $$ they will lose by cancelling it”. Cancelling it showed the league was serious.

    But hey… I’m only a stupid “best fan in the world” who will apparently flock back like sheep once they are back…

    • stakex - Nov 5, 2012 at 5:11 PM

      In a sense I think your right… this was the owners “shooting the hostage” so to speak.

      Because lets face it, the loss of the Winter Classic doesn’t hurt the players at all, and there really isn’t a huge impact on the owners either. However it is a big PR bananza for the league and its Bettmans time in the spotlight. Showing a willingness to do away with it without even trying to save it, might have been a kick in the ass to the players.

      Or, pehraps the WC being cancelled didn’t help at all and instead its the fact the season is on the line and both sides don’t want to lose an entire year. If there is no deal fairly soon, there won’t be a season. So its hard to tell whats actually causing this latest push in the talks.

      • lostpuppysyndrome - Nov 5, 2012 at 6:32 PM

        Just got a mental image of Gary Bettman as Keyser Soze…

      • comeonnowguys - Nov 6, 2012 at 9:14 AM

        You give Bettman WAY too much credit. :)

  3. capesouth - Nov 5, 2012 at 3:38 PM

    I don’t think so. What’s going to happen, and both sides already know this which is why the lockout is idiotic, is that both sides will compromise to the point where both are happy. This doesn’t end until both sides are satisfied. So, it’s not like the NHL cancelling the Classic convinced them to go back to the bargaining table. It was their decision to cancel this early, anyways.

  4. mmcneels81 - Nov 5, 2012 at 3:59 PM

    This is one of the most nonsensical mockeries I’ve ever seen. I don’t like things that don’t make sense.

  5. id4joey - Nov 5, 2012 at 5:48 PM

    I believe the actions of the ownership are part of a well defined and orchestrated psychlogical plan to force the player’s hand. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Is the NHL ownership willing to loose a full season? Why not? They’ve done it before. Do players want to loose one year’s salary? Why would they? Never have in my lifetime. And those who were affected by 04/05 said it wasn’t worth it and 240 players never played another game in the NHL post 04/05 lockout. So, no.

    Canceling the 82 game season was the first power move demonstrated by the ownership. If that didn’t get the PA’s attention, then cancel the WC. How is that for a power move? Oh! But wait said the owners to GB. That’s a lot of money we could use if you can salvage the WC and get the deal that we want Ok said GB. Can we cancel the WC early enough to reinstate it if we have an agreement? Mr Ilitch, how would you like that? What is the latest drop dead date GB asked. Hmmm! Can you work with mid Nov?

    So, they use canceling the WC as leverage to put pressure on the PA, and give themselves and option to bring back the WC.

    Note: the names have been changed to protect the guilty

  6. thedavesiknowiknow - Nov 5, 2012 at 11:43 PM

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