NHL Lockout: Owners Cancel 2013 Winter Classic

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The highest-profile event on the NHL calendar — at least outside of the Stanley Cup Final — was wiped from the schedule Friday.

Nearly two months into their lockout of players, National Hockey League owners decided Friday to cancel the league’s premier regular season showcase, the annual Winter Classic outdoor game.

The 2013 game was to pit the Maple Leafs against the Red Wings at the University of Michigan football stadium. The same teams will play at the venue in the 2014 Winter Classic, assuming the owners have lifted their lockout at that point.

Since debuting in 2008, the Winter Classic has been the highest rated and most-viewed NHL regular season game each season. Last year’s game earned more viewers (3.7M) than all-but-one game of the Kings/Devils Stanley Cup Final.

The NHL has now canceled two of the three showcase regular season games on the NBC broadcast network. The “Black Friday” NBC game, which was to feature the Rangers against the Bruins, was canceled last month along with the rest of the November schedule.

The February 17 “Hockey Day in America” doubleheader remains on the schedule, but that assumes any semblance of a season will take place.

The Winter Classic was not the only major sporting event canceled Friday, as the 2012 New York Marathon was called off due to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

The cancellation of the marathon was a much bigger news story than that of the Winter Classic, and with good reason. For one, the marathon was scheduled for Sunday, while the Winter Classic was still two months away. Furthermore, while the marathon was canceled due to a devastating hurricane, the Winter Classic was canceled for a far less important reason — so one side of CBA negotiations could obtain leverage.

The 2012 NHL lockout is the fourth work stoppage in league history (three owner-imposed lockouts and one player strike). During his two decade tenure, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has locked out the players and canceled games every time the league’s collective bargaining agreement has expired.

(Friday’s news from NHL.com)

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