SUN Hockey Pool

Leafs-Wings Classic still on -- in 2014

Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard (left) talks with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in Ann Arbor, Mich.,...

Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard (left) talks with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in Ann Arbor, Mich., in February after announcing the 2013 Winter Classic. It is likely the league will cancel the game today. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:04 PM ET

Same time, 2014.

That's about all there is to say about cancelling the 2013 NHL Winter Classic, which is certain to come back on New Year's Day 2014, with the same two teams and many of the 110,000 fans who were to be at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., this coming Jan. 1.

The question is what the league itself will look like 12 months from now, when its stubborn sides presumably make their collective bargaining peace. The 2014 game, once more involving the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings, could symbolize a healing of the rift between owners and players and more importantly, millions of fed-up fans.

But in November 2012, the philosophical and financial gap is as wide as Lake Michigan. With the calendar squeezed to less than eight weeks before the scheduled outdoor game and no firm date for the next round of talks, the league on Friday pulled the plug on the Classic.

"Logistical demands for staging events of this magnitude made today's decision unavoidable," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. "We simply are out of time."

Since the lockout began Sept. 15, the league had not aggressively pursued the groundwork for the game as in previous years, not when facing a condensed schedule and possibly the loss of the entire season. After Friday, the league was going to be on the hook for all but $100,000 of its $3-million US rental of the University of Michigan stadium.

Fans who made plans around the Classic and the hockey festival of alumni events in the Detroit area filled the Twitterverse with vitriol Friday, to the extent they were trending worldwide with Hurricane Sandy. That's on top of people who've warned the owners and players that they've already alienated the average Joe and Joan for good.

Donald Fehr, executive director of the players association, cast the blame toward his opposite number, commissioner Gary Bettman.

"The NHL's decision to cancel is unnecessary and unfortunate, as was the owners' implementation of the lockout itself," Fehr said in a statement.

But the Classic's front-line participants were among the most disappointed Friday and not because they won't get neat-looking free tuques in case of a big chill in the Big House. The same cast might not be on the same teams in another 14 months.

"I think it was going to be the granddaddy of the Winter Classics," Wings goalie Jimmy Howard told the Detroit Free Press.

"I know all my family and friends (in Syracuse, N.Y.) were very much looking forward to it. So it stinks that it's going to get postponed."

Detroit defenceman Ian White was doubly disappointed, as someone who has played for both clubs.

"It's sad," White said. "I was really looking forward to playing in that game. I've been looking forward to it since they announced it. I know everyone probably was in the state. It would have been a great event."

For the Leafs, who'd likely have been among the league's lower 15 teams had a full season been played, the Classic would have been akin to a one-day playoff after missing the post-season the past seven years. It also would have provided an international stage to parade Hall of Famers and famous alumni, reminding their long-suffering fans they once were a perennial league power equal to the 21st century Wings.

Tom Anselmi, the president and COO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, praised the "patience and understanding" of club supporters thus far during the lockout and confirmed the Leafs would play the Wings in the next Classic.

The hockey festival casualties included an outdoor farm team clash between the Toronto Marlies and Grand Rapids Griffins, now moved indoors to the latter's home Dec. 29.

As far as financial losses, the Ann Arbor area takes a $15-million hit, losing 3,000 to 4,000 hotel room nights. The game was going to be on NBC and, after reimbursing the Wings for what would have been a home game at Joe Louis Arena, massive revenues would have gone back to the league to be split among remaining teams, including the Leafs.

Too bad there won't be enough visitors on the streets of Ann Arbor to get up a chorus of Auld Lang Syne.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos