NHL cancels Jan. 1 Winter Classic outdoor game

The NHL’s biggest event has been removed from the schedule.

After weeks of speculation, the league formally called off the Jan. 1 Winter Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings at Michigan Stadium on Friday afternoon.

“The logistical demands for staging events of this magnitude made today’s decision unavoidable,” said deputy commissioner Bill Daly. “We simply are out of time. We are extremely disappointed for our fans and for all those affected.”

The announcement comes after 326 regular-season games have already been cancelled due to the ongoing lockout.

Eliminating the Winter Classic carries added significance. The annual New Year’s Day game has grown into a widely popular event since first being held in 2008 and this season’s matchup was billed as the biggest yet.

“These two Original Six rivals will take the Winter Classic to a new record-setting level,” commissioner Gary Bettman said in February.

The league wrestled with the decision on when to pull the plug and ultimately decided that there wasn’t enough time left to pull it together. In addition to the Jan. 1 game, a second rink at Comerica Park in Detroit was planned, where junior, NCAA, American Hockey League and alumni games would be held.

Those have all been called off as well.

By cancelling the event on Friday, the NHL forfeited a US$100,000 deposit already paid to the University of Michigan. It would have been on the hook for other expenses to the school if it was called off closer to Jan. 1.

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association haven’t held negotiations since Oct. 18, when the union responded to the league’s latest offer by tabling three proposals.

None of those gained any traction.

On Friday morning, Daly told The Canadian Press that he expects collective bargaining talks to resume in the “relatively near future,” indicating that the sides were still working through logistics.

The sides have been fighting over how to divide the US$3.3-billion in revenue the league pulled in last season. That number is sure to be much lower if any part of this year is salvaged.

The Winter Classic itself is a major money-maker and organizers were expected a crowd in excess of 115,000 this year — a number that would have set the world record for a hockey game.

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