NHL Lockout 2012: Winter Classic Cancellation Should End Bettman's Reign

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistOctober 19, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:  Commissioner Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League speaks to the media at Crowne Plaza Times Square on September 13, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With the NHL currently not open for business, it comes as no surprise that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is threatening to cancel this year's Winter Classic as the two sides continue to disagree on, well, pretty much everything, per Chris Johnston of the Canadian Press.

Bettman says Winter Classic cancellation date is "rapidly approaching."

— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) October 18, 2012

It'd be a brilliant move on the part of Bettman, the negotiator, to cancel the game.

Donald Fehr and the player's association know how valuable that game is to the league, both in terms of revenue and exposure. Of the more than 1,200 regular season games on the schedule, this is the only one that garners national attention, both in the United States and in Canada.

It's the only real leverage that the players have in this prolonged game of chicken, and removing it from the equation essentially lets the NHL revert back to far less amenable offers than the 50-50 split that they presented the union with earlier this week—an offer that the union rejected and countered—only to be rebuffed by the league once again (h/t ESPN).

Forget about the fact that this year's edition of the Winter Classic, to be held at Michigan Stadium on Jan. 1 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings, is expected to draw more than 110,000 fans, setting new attendance records for an outdoor hockey game.

Forget about the fact that Bettman would be robbing the fans of the one game that is rivaled by only the Stanley Cup finals—and even then, can easily outdraw the deciding game for the sport's Holy Grail in both television ratings and global appeal.

With the game months away, why cancel it now? It makes no sense.

You do this in December, not at the end of October or beginning of November.

The plans are already in place, from travel plans to hotel rooms and everything else that's required to successfully pull off the event.

Advertising? The game isn't a hard sell—certainly not to those planning to attend, and a week's worth of commercials on television leading up to the game would suffice in getting the word out to the general public.

What about Ann Arbor, the city in which it's to take place? What about Detroit, a city that has been battered and broken for years?

You don't think those municipalities need the revenue that this game brings in, even more than the billionaires and millionaires that are involved with the current work stoppage? We are talking about tens of millions of dollars here.

If Gary Bettman had any intention of ending this lockout, he'd keep hope for that game alive until the bitter end, exhausting all avenues to reach an agreement before finally saying "Folks, we tried. But the players are being unreasonable, and we have no choice but to cancel next month's Winter Classic."

For if resolution was the ultimate goal, he'd lock himself in a room with NHL Player's Association head Donald Fehr and not emerge until an agreement had been worked out.

I'm not being facetious. You can have food delivered 24 hours a day, seven days a week in New York City. Aside from bathroom breaks, there's no reason to come out of that room.

But it's becoming evident that Bettman is more interested in "breaking" the union—in proving to the world that he can win a staring contest against Fehr—than he is in getting the product back onto the ice.

By cancelling the game, Bettman would be robbing the league of exposure—and revenue—that he claims the sport desperately needs; lest we forget, the billionaire owners and millionaire players aren't making enough money.

Or at least that's what we are supposed to believe.

It's fitting that Donald Fehr is his adversary in this version of "Bettman's Blunders," as Fehr spent the better part of two decades leading the Major League Baseball Player's Association.

There are similarities between baseball and hockey. Both sports use a thin piece of a material, whether it be wood, graphite, whatever—to whack at a small object moving at a high rate of speed.

This is the third work stoppage in the nearly two decades that Bettman has held his position as commissioner of the NHL—all league-imposed lockouts.

If Gary Bettman cancels the Winter Classic in 2013, a familiar baseball cry should cascade into the commissioner's office from the owners he represents, the owners who, were they speaking to the media about the work stoppage, would tell us that they have the fans' best interests and the sport's future in mind.

"Strike Three! You're out!"


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