NHL Cancels Winter Classic Because Nothing Else to Talk About

The NHL’s Winter Classic was canceled last week. (Insert feigned sense of shock.) While this might seem a little late to report, it is important to observe that the cancellation did nothing to spur sides back to the negotiating table. NHL Owners proposed a 50-50 revenue split to the Players Union who, behind Donald Fehr, said no dice and haven’t otherwise spoken since October 18th. It’s frustrating that the two sides only efforts are to make the other side look bad. (I suppose it’s the era in which we live.) The only noise in the forest is the silent screams of players’ typed disappointment in the Twitterspere. Not exactly the stuff of good PR , not to mention effective negotiation.

The NHL is not as popular as its professional peers – well, at least south of the border where the TV markets actually matter – and the Winter Classic is an attempt to pull at our romantic heartstrings for old-time outdoor hockey and it was actually working. The increasing popularity of the event was recognized by the new national TV contract signed by NBC. Every game in last season’s playoffs was televised and the Stanley Cup finals included teams from markets representing the extremes of hockey popularity. The New Jersey Devils defeated the New York Rangers in an Eastern Conference Finals matchup that was a dream for NBC’s money. Meanwhile in the west, LA was the 8th seed and went on remarkable, dominating playoff run to capture the Stanley Cup. The NHL could be making real strides to grow the sport but instead is in jeopardy of losing yet another season to labor strife. The cancellation of the Winter Classic leaves fans with little in the way of prospects for a regular season. Perhaps the NHL is kowtowing to the prevailing notion that the regular season is pretty lacklustre in any event, because players stratospherically elevate their performance during the playoffs. The Winter Classic is that one regular season event that fans could look forward to as something compelling no matter which team is involved.

The NHL and NHLPA don’t seem to care about the fans. The cancellation of this special event just cements the perception that the sides are so far apart that they can’t even sit down and talk.

2009