Could the 2013 NHL Winter Classic be more important than we thought?

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If the dispute isn’t settled soon, Bettman might cancel the biggest date on the NHL calendar.

As I’m sure the NFL is quite aware of, work stoppages in sports can only be a negative thing. A hard lesson was supposed to be learned back in 2004 during the last players’ strike in the National Hockey League but it appears commissioner Gary Bettman has much to learn. You’d think he would’ve learned something after presiding over two previous lockouts. But for all the hockey fans out there, here are the issues at hand:

The owners presented the key issues back in July and they are as follows:

  • To reduce the players’ share of hockey related revenues (HRR) from 57% (settled in 2004) to 46%. Additionally, the owners want to reduce the HRR itself as 46% of the adjust HRR would equate to 43% of the current HRR.
  • To set a maximum of 5 years on the contracts of all new players.
  • To do away with signing bonuses
  • To regulate the contracts themselves so as to eliminate the “frontloading” of certain players’ contracts.
  • To change the entry level players’ contracts to a minimum of five years
  • To change the unrestricted free agency minimum from seven to ten years

The National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) waited a month so as to allocate more financial data regarding the situation and countered with the following in August:

  • To retain the salary cap but to separate it from the HRR and make it a fixed cap for three years. On the fourth year, they could return to the previous CBA that was established in 2004.

However, the owners felt as though it was not nearly enough to generate a compromise and both sides have entered into a financial stalemate. Since then, Commissioner Bettman has used the 2013 Winter Classic as a bargaining weapon against the players. The Winter Classic was started back in 2008 as a gimmick game to attract casual fans to watch a backyard professional neighborhood roots hockey game. Much to the excitement of the NHL, the game’s interest took off as it was presented as a brief break from the bombardment of the college football bowl season and it also was a staple in the holiday sports docket as it was hyped up and anticipated much like the Rose Bowl, the BCS National Championship, and culminating in February with the Super Bowl.

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Will we see this on New Years Day? The answer is still up in the air.

After successful showcases in many enthusiastic hockey venues such as Ralph Wilson Stadium in New York (’08), Wrigley Field in Chicago (’09), Fenway Park in Boston (’10), Heinz Field in Pittsburgh (’11), and last season’s game in Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, the NHL was prepared to hit a home run with this year’s version: an Original Six matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs in the biggest stadium in the nation: Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, the home of the University of Michigan’s storied football team. The sheer numbers of people that would flock to the stands as well as suite tickets and seats on the field surrounding the hockey rink would generate a new standard for outdoor hockey games. Combined with the fact that the University of Michigan had previously hosted an outdoor hockey game (a world record by the way), it was a perfect venue. Additionally, a twin rink would be constructed at Comerica Park in Detroit, home of the Tigers. Two alumni games would be played with an entire holiday weekend of festivities would be planned. The revenue generated could be more than the previous games combined!

But the likelihood of all of these occurrences to actually happen has diminished radically. Bettman has explicitly stated that he would consider eliminating this season’s game if a deal cannot be reached by early or mid-November by the latest. If he would eliminate the game, it would be a huge blow to the players  case to reform the NHL and it could further prevent what everyone truly wants: to see their beloved hockey teams take the ice.

In theory, it might seem that we have a group of millionaires and a group of billionaires arguing over the largest amount of money ever generated from a single professional hockey game. In reality, we just call them the players and the owners.

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About Joe Barroso

Joe Barroso is the creator and editor of the Sporting Mitten blog as well as a contributor for the Farm Club blog. He began to pursue a career in journalism in 2010 while in high school. He created, produced, and wrote for "Irish Pride Sports Show" a weekly, sports feature show for Father Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor, MI. He grew up in southeastern Michigan playing a variety of sports but was drawn to the game of baseball. Even with his short-lived playing career in high school gone, he still decided to pursue a career reporting happenings in baseball. You can reach him at jayambassador@gmail.com.
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