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Contract allows NHL until Jan. 1 to decide to cancel 2013 Winter Classic

Sean Leahy
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If there's one reason for both the NHL and NHLPA to hammer out a new CBA at some point in the near future, it's the upcoming Winter Classic, scheduled for Jan. 1, 2013 between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium. The game is a cash cow for all involved with sold out stadiums for the game itself and the two scheduled alumni games, sponsorships galore and merchandise-hungry fans gobbling up everything from jerseys to shirts to funny-looking winter hats.

This year's game would break many records set by the previous five. For starters, selling out "The Big House" with over 110,000 Red Wings, Maple Leaf and other fans would make for a nice league press release the night of Jan. 1. Then once all the cash registers are counted, the revenue generated from not only the Winter Classic game, but also the Hockeytown Winter Festival leading up to Jan 1., which includes four college games, two OHL games and one AHL game, plus the two alumni games, that will likely be another press release touting record revenues generated by the event.

But what would happen if the current state of labor in the NHL remains at a standstill and we're threatened with missing most or (please not again) another full season? How would the NHL's agreement with the University of Michigan be affected by a work stoppage? Turns out the league has plenty of time to decide on finally canceling the event should it come to that.

From the Jeff Z. Klein of New York Times:

The N.H.L.'s contract with Michigan, approved by the university's board of regents on Feb. 9, contains provisions that treat a work stoppage in a way similar to a "force majeure" cancellation brought about by act of God, riot, weather, disaster or any other cause beyond the league's control.

"It's standard for us to include force majeure provisions in virtually all of our contracts," said Bill Daly, the N.H.L. deputy commissioner, "and if we anticipated the possibility of a work stoppage in particular, it certainly wouldn't have been unusual."

Donald Fehr, the executive director of the players' union, declined to comment.

According to Klein, the NHL's contract with the University of Michigan allows them to back out of the deal as late as the day of the game and only forfeit $100,000 of the $3 million stadium rental fee. The NHL has control of the stadium from Dec. 1 to Jan. 9 and the contract (you can read it here) states nothing of sort to allow the game to be played at a later date at Michigan Stadium due to a work stoppage. But the contract provisions make it so should labor peace come in December, the chances of still holding the game are possible.

From the revenue brought to the attention paid to the game by all media, including HBO's 24/7 series, there's plenty of people who will be quite upset should the annual game have to be canceled.  With the NHL proclaiming they've taken New Year's Day away from college football, a combination of taking a year off plus the new bowl playoff system coming into place in 2014 would mean the game could take a hit in terms of casual fan and casual media interest.

As if there wasn't already enough at stake in these labor talks ...

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Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy

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