The 2013 Winter Classic became another casualty of the NHL lockout.
As expected, the NHL announced the cancellation of its signature regular-season event on Friday.
The announcement had been anticipated since last week, when the NHL cancelled regular-season games through Nov. 30 due to the ongoing lockout.
"The logistical demands for staging events of this magnitude made today's decision unavoidable," said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. "We simply are out of time. We are extremely disappointed, for our fans and for all those affected, to have to cancel the Winter Classic and Hockeytown Winter Festival events."
"We look forward to bringing the next Winter Classic and the Hockeytown Winter Festival to Michigan."
NHLPA executive director Don Fehr called the decision "unnecessary and unfortunate, as was the owners' implementation of the lockout itself."
"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," he said. "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."
The Winter Classic game had been set for New Year's Day at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, with the Detroit Red Wings playing the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Other events like alumni, junior, college and American Hockey Leagues games for a second outdoor venue at Comerica Park in Detroit were also cancelled.
"It's obviously very sad," said Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall. "The Winter Classic is one of the highlights of the year, and this is something everyone has been looking to because playing at the Big House would've been something very special."
Michigan will host next Winter Classic
However, the state of Michigan won’t be left out in the cold.
All events will return to Ann Arbor and Detroit next season provided a new collective bargaining agreement is in place, the league said in a statement.
This includes the marquee matchup between the Red Wings and Leafs.
Given the ongoing lockout, the NHL made the decision to scrap its big outdoor game because "the league was not in a position to do all that is necessary to adequately stage events of this magnitude."
"We want to thank Maple Leafs fans for their support, patience and understanding during CBA negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA," said Tom Anselmi, president and COO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.
"We know our fans were excited to see this historic Original Six outdoor encounter in a couple of months and we are disappointed for them. However, we know that the NHL remains committed to achieving an agreement that is fair for the players and the member clubs, and one that will be good for the fans and our game."
Approximately 400,000 people were expected in the area over the New Year's weekend, packing in hotel rooms, restaurants and bars.
"We have been holding reservations for a lot of fans that were expecting to come," said Michael Harman, general manager of the Campus Inn in Ann Arbor. "So far, we have not received very many cancellations, but we do anticipate them."
The timing of the announcement coincides with the contract the league signed with the University of Michigan for the use of the stadium.
The deal for the outdoor event stipulates that the NHL could recover all but $100,000 US of its $3-million rental fee if it was to cancel the Winter Classic by Nov. 2 or sooner.
The first payment of $250,000 to the school was to be paid Friday, with the league also losing the $100,000 deposit.
If the league had not cancelled the event Friday it would need to reimburse the university for any "out-of-pocket expenses reasonably occurred" in connection with the outdoor game.
Organizers anticipated world record
Organizers were anticipating the game would topple the world record of 104,173 fans who took part in the "Big Chill" NCAA hockey game between Michigan and rival Michigan State University at Michigan Stadium on Dec. 11, 2011.
John Collins, the NHL’s chief operation officer, said in February that the economic boom of the weeklong hockey events to Michigan’s southeast region — including Detroit and Ann Arbor — could exceed $75 million. That would amount to more than double the estimated $30 to $35 million host Philadelphia garnered last year.
The lockout, now in its 48th day, has already seen 326 regular-season games lost — or 26.5 per cent of the schedule — after the NHL cancelled contests from Oct. 11 through Nov. 30.
Earlier Friday, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Canadian Press that he expects collective bargaining talks with the NHL Players' Association to resume in the "relatively near future."
The two sides haven't formally met since Oct. 18 in Toronto.
Daly, who has kept contact with NHLPA's special counsel Steve Fehr several times this week, said collective bargaining talks with the union is closer to being set up.
"No meetings have been scheduled yet, but we have had an ongoing dialogue," Daly wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Friday.
Don Cherry not optimistic
Coach's Corner star Don Cherry didn’t paint a rosy picture when he was asked about the state of the lockout.
Joining CBC’s Metro Morning radio show on Thursday, Cherry told host Matt Galloway he believes the NHL will endure another lost season.
"If I’m betting, I’d say no [NHL season]," said Cherry, who was also on to mark the 60th anniversary of Hockey Night in Canada.
If the charismatic broadcaster’s gloomy outlook becomes a reality, it would be the second time in eight years that a lockout would claim the entire NHL season.