NHL Winter Classic likely to be canceled

| Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, 7:30 p.m.

The Winter Classic may get iced, but continued talks between the NHL and Players' Association provides slight hope for fans who want hockey played indoors this season.

The NHL is leaning towards canceling its annual outdoor game Friday. However, Day 47 of the lockout passed Thursday with deputy commissioner Bill Daly and union special counsel Steve Fehr continuing their renewed dialogue.

Morning talks were expected to resume late in the afternoon, Daly said in an email. Neither the NHL nor the union provided details of the discussions, but Daly described talks Wednesday as “substantive” and union officials expressed guarded optimism about a possible return to the negotiation table.

NHL players conducted a conference call around noon Thursday. It was described as “routine” by Penguins players who practiced at Southpointe, but the players said union executives were not on the call.

Communication between the NHL and union was scarce for about two weeks before Wednesday. In-person negotiations have not resumed since the NHL rejected multiple union proposals Oct. 18. There aren't any planned.

The NHL is a week removed from cancelling the November portion of its schedule. About 26 percent of 2,460 regular-season games — including 23 Penguins contests — were purged.

Penguins players who practiced at Friday at Southpointe — Sidney Crosby, Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Tyler Kennedy and club union rep Craig Adams — did not downplay the resumption of communication between the union and league.

Crosby reiterated his Monday prediction that the next three weeks were critical to avoiding a second lost season.

The NHL did not play in 2004-05 because of a similar labor dispute, though that one was over structural changes such as the implementation of a salary cap.

This lockout is mostly about division of revenue between owners and players and how to guarantee contracts.

Adams cited drug testing, travel and scheduling as part of “a million things that we've worked on, and we've definitely come to agreement on a lot of those things.”

However, Adams described a second tier of disagreements on issues such as contract lengths and free-agency stipulations. The “big issue,” he said, remains division of revenue.

Both sides agree to a 50/50 split, but owners want that ratio immediately, and players seek a gradual reduction. The previous labor agreement provided players 57 percent of revenue that last season reached a record $3.3 billion.

A new proposal from players is not forthcoming, Adams said. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said owners' last offer, presented Oct. 16, is the one off which sides must negotiate.

A shrewd negotiation of the $3 million contract with the University of Michigan will limit the NHL's financial responsibility if the Winter Classic is canceled Friday. The Classic is slated for New Year's Day at Michigan Stadium between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.

The contract for that game was signed Feb. 8. It calls an NHL payment of $250,000 Friday. However, the contract was worded so that the NHL will owe only $100,000 if the outdoor game is canceled before or by Friday.

The contract also stipulates that NHL Entertainment can cancel the “any events, including the game” because of any work stoppage, including a strike or lockout, “due in whole or in part to a lack of collective bargaining agreement… even if as the result of intentional conduct by the NHL.”

The last CBA expired Sept. 15. The NHL enacted this lockout upon that expiration.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rrossi@tribweb.com or 412-380-5635.

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