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Without NHL visit to Ann Arbor, is the Winter Classic in serious lockout trouble?

Greg Wyshynski
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It's no secret that the 2013 NHL Winter Classic at the Big House in Ann Arbor will be canceled rather hastily if the lockout lingers on. The NHL doesn't want it used as a political prop for the players, and frankly needs several weeks for publicity and prep work to get the annual event up to speed.

That's why this report by Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press on Tuesday was a little disconcerting:

Officials from league headquarters went to Michigan Stadium in September to do logistics scouting, part of the massive preparation to hold the scheduled outdoor game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 1. But with the NHL already having canceled two weeks of the regular season -- and with no progress made on tangible issues between the NHL and the NHL Players Association on a new collective bargaining agreement -- no follow-up trips are on the horizon, a person with knowledge of the situation told the Free Press today.

Were the 2012-13 schedule under way as normal -- were the Winter Classic not at risk -- operations people would have had a great opportunity to see Ann Arbor at its busiest this month.

This stands in contrast with last season's Winter Classic, in which NHL officials visited and evaluated Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia; but keep in mind that deal was struck later in the year, so there was a truncated ramp up to the event. The official press conference for the 2013 Winter Classic was in July.

There's clearly still time to preserve the Classic for this season if a deal is struck in short order. But the NHL isn't going to hold this week-long event — which could be the biggest revenue-generating event in league history — if the work stoppage has sucked away all its momentum and tarnished its luster.

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