Even though with every passing day it looks like the NHL won’t start the upcoming season on time due to the expiration of its current Collective Bargaining Agreement, the annual Winter Classic on New Year’s Day won’t be cancelled until the last possible moment. The game is scheduled to take place on the afternoon of Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, and the league is expecting a record crowd of 115,000 for a hockey game.
However, if the league doesn’t start as scheduled on Oct. 11 the game won’t be cancelled unless there’s no hockey being played in December. A lockout is possible, but like the NBA situation last year, so is a shortened season. The Classic game, between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs can actually be scrapped as late as the day of the event according to the contract signed between the University of Michigan and the NHL.
The stadium will cost the league $3 million to rent, and if it’s canceled by Nov. 3 the league will lose just $100,000 of this money with the rest being refunded. If it’s canceled after that date then the university will also charge the league with any costs it incurred. If there is a lockout or strike in December, it’s likely the game will be called off. The way things are looking at the moment, many fans feel that a lockout looks to be a certainty. The current CBA expires on Sept. 15 and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has publicly stated that the league won’t begin until a new one is signed, sealed, and delivered.
The two sides are quite a way apart on negotiations. The NHL made its first offer to the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) back on July 13, which saw the league trying to cut the salaries of players by about 24 per cent. The league also wants to reduce total player revenues by 13 per cent from 57 down to 43 per cent. The league also wants players to play 10 years in the league before they can become unrestricted free agents, it wants player contracts to have a maximum length of five years and entry-level contracts extended to five years from the current three. In addition, the NHL wants to do away with salary arbitration.
The last time there was a labor dispute between the NHL and the players came in 2004/05 and the whole season was wiped out. But the Winter Classic is now seen as a big money maker for the league and it could possibly sway club owners into giving up a few percentage points on salaries to make sure the game’s played as scheduled. It’s believed the league makes about $200 million for each Winter Classic game due to ticket sales, advertising revenue and sponsorship money.
The NHL can also cancel or postpone the game due to something such as a riot, disaster, or act of God etc. The contract with the university gives the NHL use of the stadium from Dec. 1 up until Jan 9. If the contest has to be postponed because of bad weather or anything else the makeup date is the following day Jan. 2.
There will also be alumni, college, junior, and minor league games taking place during the Winter Classic time period, but they’ll be played at Comerica Park, the home of MLB’s Detroit Tigers. An NHL work stoppage wouldn’t technically affect these games, but there’s a good chance they’ll be called off if the league isn’t playing.