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Winter Classic, All-Star Game could get ax

| Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, 3:22 p.m.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during a news conference Wednesday in New York, announcing that the Islanders will move from Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., and play at Brooklyn's Barclays Center starting in 2015. The NHL is prepared to cancel the Winter Classic and All-Star Game if a deal with the Players' Association does not come together this week. (AP)
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The Philadelphia Flyers take on the New York Rangers during the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park on Jan. 2, 2012 in Philadelphia. (Getty Images)

The NHL is prepared to wipe out the Winter Classic and All-Star Game, its showcase regular-season events.

The Winter Classic outdoor game, staged annually around New Year's Day and slated for Michigan Stadium in 2013, is likely to be included among games canceled if a labor agreement with the Players' Association is not reached Thursday. The Classic would be canceled in November, along with the All-Star Game.

“We obviously take all stakeholder views and needs into account in making decisions in those events,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said of the Classic and All-Star Game in an email Wednesday. “Everyone is interested in an earlier decision if at all possible so they can turn the page and try to redirect the business. We are sensitive to those needs.”

Union executive director Donald Fehr did not address the Winter Classic or All-Star Game but said NHLPA leadership remains ready to meet.

“(The NHL is) winding the clock down to yet another artificial deadline they created,” Fehr said.

The Classic and All-Star Game have been the highest-rated regular-season games since the Classic's debut in 2008. Reasons to cancel the signature events include: protecting local businesses such as hotel and restaurants; refunding tickets; and eliminating the lucrative games as possible bargaining chips during labor negotiations.

The Tribune-Review first reported earlier this month that NBC, the NHL's national broadcast partner, had started planning for programming to replace the Classic. HBO, which had produced the “24/7: Road to the Winter Classic” series each of the past two Decembers, must know by mid-November if that program can go off as planned.

The 2013 Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., is scheduled to pit the Detroit Red Wings against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the first Canadian club involved in the outdoor event. The Columbus Blue Jackets are to host All-Star weekend Jan. 26-27. The 2005 All-Star Game was canceled before the NHL announced its entire season would be lost in January of that year.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spoke Wednesday at a news conference to announce the New York Islanders' move from Long Island to Brooklyn, and he offered no assurance that the Classic would survive the next round of canceled games.

The NHL has bagged regular-season games through Nov. 1. Training camps must open Friday for a full 82-game season to begin Nov. 2, Bettman reiterated.

Owners locked out players Sept. 15, and negotiations broke Oct. 17 after the league rejected three union proposals. The league will not meet with the NHLPA unless the union agrees to negotiate off the NHL offer, Daly said.

Penguins players have said they expect at least two more weeks of games to be canceled by the weekend, and more likely a month's worth. The NHL has not indicated how many more games would be cut.

There is no plan for how many games would constitute a season if 82 becomes implausible, Daly said.

Based off respective current proposals, the NHL and union have agreed on a 50/50 split of future revenue — a record $3.3 billion last season — and the guarantee of full payment on current contracts. However, the sides differ on the math for a 50/50 split and the manner in which full payment will be offered to players.

Also, structural issues such as maximum veteran contract length and disciplinary measures are not settled, an NHLPA official confirmed.

The NHL offer is contingent on an 82-game season. Fehr has not said whether union offers will stay on the table if there are more cancellations.

Note: Penguins center Evgeni Malkin had a goal and two assists in Metallurg Magnitogorsk's 4-3 overtime loss to Donbass Donetsk in an KHL contest. Malkin has six goals and 20 points in 14 games.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rrossi@tribweb.com.

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