The Malik Report
by George Malik on 09/22/12 at 02:44 AM ET
I need to preface this report with a suggestion: at this point in the lockout, there is little being stated to the media, dropped as a hot tip or plain old blatently blathered that is not propaganda.
As far as I'm concerned, until the NHL and NHLPA work the, "Lockout is illegal" cases through the various provincial courts, we're likely to see more games canceled* and another week or three without negotiations thanks to the simple fact that lawyers are lawyers, and in the interim, fans like you and me can expect our emotions to be jerked around like a puck on a Datsyukian steal and double deke.
That being said, there's no doubt that the chain of events regarding the Red Wings and the supposed cancelation of various Winter Classic-related activities, starting with the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan's report that the Hockeytown Winter Festival might be in jeopardy, and continuing with the Toronto Star's Kevin McGran's suggestion that the Winter Classic itself might be scrapped for the simple sake of eliminating a CBA negotiating leverage point are both worrisome. The Sporting News's Jesse Spector offered a nuanced, "Why go nuclear?" and Kulfan himself is questioning the report this morning...
But given that we're currently in the middle of a particularly violent spin cycle, it should come as little surprise that the Ottawa Sun's well-connected Bruce Garrioch suggests that the Winter Classic's fate is indeed in question:
"I don't think (the league) cares," said an NHL executive speaking on the condition of anonymity this week. "They'll just postpone (the game) and hold it the next year. No big deal."
At least two other league executives contacted by QMI Agency shared that view. It may not look like it, but the Winter Classic is being treated by the league's head office as just another game on the schedule in this labour dispute with the players.
Of course, that couldn't be further from the truth. The average ticket price for the New Year's Day game is in the $200 range. That doesn't take into account the money people will spend on concessions and finding a parking spot. Cancelling it will be costly.
"The impact of losing this game is in the tens of millions of dollars," a league insider said Friday. "The rationale behind this game is that the NHL is put under the national spotlight in the United States, and in Canada as well. You have a national viewing audience that has no competition: There's no NBA, the bowl games don't start for three hours. They pull out all the heavyweights for this game and it's well promoted. This sets the standard for the second half of the season. This game is of massive importance."
A rather outspoken supporter of the owners' lockout disagrees with that suggestion:
"I don't think there is any pressure (for Bettman) to get a deal done (to save the Winter Classic)," Rogers Sportsnet analyst Doug MacLean, a former Columbus Blue Jackets president/general manager, said Friday. "The governors are totally focused on fixing the (CBA). They're not focused on any of those things, such as NBC and corporate partners. The league has its eye on the big picture and that's where they are headed. They can't worry about one game. That's not what this (fight) is about."
Garrioch believes that some of the Hockeytown Winter Festival's events might go on as scheduled minus a Winter Classic, but as Spector so astutely pointed, it seems to be a little early in the negotiating game for someone to press the nuclear option and essentially nix the first half of the season, the HBO 24/7 hype, ratings and all the $pon$or$hip money the classic--which would presumably be rolled over to 2014 as a Wings-Leafs match-up is too ripe a fiscal tree to not shake--for the sake of, "You're not gonna break us owners, we're gonna break you" rhetoric:
"This game and everything that goes with it is one of kind," the insider said. "The NHL is going to say 'no' because they don't want pressure in the negotiation, but one can deduct it's pretty important. It is a benchmark on the timetable and, of course, they're not going to admit to that."
It's hard to say what's real and what's not, other than the fact that Jimmy Devellano's interview with Scott Harrigan and his tender post-script about an inevitable rollback may leave Wings fans wishing that the tipsy uncle who's said too much at the holiday party wasn't their uncle, but given that Gary Bettman, Bill Daly, the Board of Governors' hawks in Jeremy Jacobs, Ed Snider, and as it apparently turns out, Jimmy Devellano have burned down the village twice before to save it, and who's to say whether the third controled burn might not spread like wildfire simply because these gents seem to love watching hopes burn.
There's only one thing I don't doubt: Ticketmaster will keep every cent of those damn $40 "service fees," regardless of whether the Winter Classic happens this year or the next.
*I'm going with "canceled" and "cancelation" as opposed to "cancelled" and "cancellation" after consulting with Merriam-Webster and finding that both forms are acceptable. We tend to write "canceled" and "cancellation," and that strikes me as rather annoyingly inconsistent.
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