Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Winter Classic cancelation will delay outdoor game coming to Minnesota

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: November 2, 2012 - 2:20 PM

As I reported on the blog Oct. 26, the time was coming for the biggest casualty (thus far) of this now-48-day lockout: the Jan. 1 Winter Classic -- or the celebration of the National Hockey League -- has been canceled.

Hard to blame 'em. Hard to celebrate an NHL season that hasn't existed at least to date.

“The logistical demands for staging events of this magnitude made today’s decision unavoidable. We simply are out of time,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “We are extremely disappointed, for our fans and for all those affected, to have to cancel the Winter Classic and Hockeytown Winter Festival events.”

For a league that said it had already suffered $720 million in damage before today, this puts another severe dent in 2012-13 revenues, not to mention the bad will that continues to heighten amongst fans and sponsors.

The biggest hockey game in history at the "Big House" in Ann Arbor, Mich., between Original Six franchises Detroit and Toronto will be postponed 'til next year (assuming the NHL plays next season, which interestingly the league made sure not to say in the release; just said next Winter Classic would be in Detroit/Ann Arbor), meaning the soonest the Wild can be awarded the Winter Classic would be 2015 now.

And remember, several franchises have lined up with bids to get the game. Reportedly, Washington has been promised a game, and you know the league would at some point like to have the signature event in New York.

So where the Wild stands in that list is unknown, but landing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last July 4 and the eventual arrivals of several top prospects (Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin, etc.) will certainly make the team more marketable -- a necessity if you want to host the Winter Classic.

What's next? Horrifying to think about, really.

Games have been canceled 'til at least Dec. 1. The Winter Classic is gone. Even though the league has yet to announce the cancelation of the All-Star Game in Columbus, you know it's gone.

Basically, the biggest drama in the NHL these days are cancelation announcements.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said in a statement: “The NHL’s decision to cancel the 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic is 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. 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.”

Let's hope the biggest cancelation announcement of 'em all isn't next on the docket -- the extermination of the 2012-13 season. It does sound like the NHL and NHLPA have at least been on speaking terms this week (well done, gentlemen) and a face-to-face bargaining session is on the horizon. Perhaps there could actually be some positive momentum coming up so the NHL doesn't become the first professional sports league to cancel two seasons, let alone one (and in an eight-year span!), because of a labor dispute.

Why did the league have to scrap the Winter Classic so soon? You can take a look at the Oct. 26 blog for answers, but:

-- Nonrefundable dollars had to be invested to put on the game, including another $250,000 installment today of the eventual $3 million to rent the 110,000 University of Michigan Stadium.

-- If the game's canceled after today, the league has to pay all expenses to the university.

-- A rink needed to be built at Comerica Park in Detroit and the Big House in Ann Arbor.

-- HBO "24/7"

-- There was a two-week Winter Festival that was going to occur.

-- There was the Great Lakes Invitational (college games) and junior games and American League games and high school that were supposed to occur outside, and those teams need to know if they needed to reschedule indoors.

-- There were two alumni games that were supposed to be played.

-- Thousands of part-time workers needed to be hired.

-- Sponsors needed to be informed of what's going on.

-- Fans who bought tickets needed to know whether to secure hotels and airfare.

-- And the league couldn't afford to put on this event without the big ramp-up, buzz, bells and whistles.

-- And, finally, again, how can you celebrate the league this year? OK, I added that one. Probably not an official reason provided by the NHL.

My goodness, what is this league doing to itself? So sad.


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