Kolupanowich: Plan Bs for the 2012-13 season

By: Tim Kolupanowich, Executive Editor

@TimKolupan_

Now that there’s an official lockout deadline (Sept. 15) it’s time to start wondering if you should keep saving up for season tickets or treat yourself to something nice this winter. While the NHL and the Players’ Association battle it out once again. But there is a chance for something new this winter.

The Kontinental Hockey League will play a factor in North America and if there is a lockout, the Russian league will be the only chance to see the top NHL players at all. Plans were made official in July to have the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the new home of the NBA’s Nets, host two games in January. Dynamo Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg will play at the arena on Jan. 19 and 20.

Those plans were already in place, now it’s being reported expedition games between NHL and KHL players could be a possibility in case of a lockout. Mike Brehm of USA Today reported Sunday four cities are in line to host games between KHL and NHL all-star players. Those cities are Moscow, Russia, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Quebec City, Quebec and one more site in southern Ontario.

Dynamo won the Gagarin Cup last season as champion of Russia and is led by goalie Alexander Yeryomenko who finished 18-9 and was first in shutouts (six) and second in goals-against average (1.91) last season. In the playoffs he was even better, going 16-5 with a .943 save percentage, 1.54 GAA and three shutouts.

SKA, who was swept in the conference final by Dynamo after finishing second in the regular season, has a number of former NHLers including Patrick Thoresen, Petr Prucha, Dimitri Kalinin, Max Afinogenov and Evgeny Artyukhin.

But that’s if there’s no season. If there is a season but it’s delayed, they have plans for that as well, one of which is making sure the Winter Classic can be played. Jeff Z. Klein of The New York Times reports a clause in the contract between the NHL and University of Michigan, hosting the event in the 115,000-seat Michigan Stadium, allows the NHL to cancel the Winter Classic right up until Jan. 1.  

The Winter Classic has been a success since the first in Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2008. (Falling Heavens, Wikimedia Commons)

This clause was added so that in the event of a lockout, the NHL doesn’t have to officially cancel the event if the season could be saved before New Year’s Day. It is a standard provision that is put into most contracts the NHL signs. Klein has more on the clause and what else the contract between the NHL and University of Michigan stipulates:

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.

According to the contract, the N.H.L. will have the use of Michigan Stadium from Dec. 1, when construction of the ice rink on the stadium floor can begin, through Jan. 9, when removal of the rink must be finished. The game can be played only on Jan. 1 or, in case of bad weather, Jan. 2. There is no provision in the contract for the Winter Classic to be played at Ann Arbor later in 2013 because of a work stoppage or for any other reason, and Daly said last week that there was no other agreement to play the game later in the year.

The N.H.L.-Michigan contract stipulates that the league forfeit $100,000 if it cancels the Winter Classic before Nov. 3. On Nov. 3 or after, a cancellation would cost the league $100,000 and any expenses incurred by the university in connection to the game.

The contract does not cover an associated slate of outdoor games at Detroit’s Comerica Park involving Red Wings and Maple Leafs alumni teams as well as N.C.A.A., minor league and junior teams. None of those would be officially affected by an N.H.L. work stoppage, but it is unclear whether they would be played if the Winter Classic were canceled.

So at least the NHL has a plan to have the Winter Classic on time even if they can’t get the season started on time. The only major problem is for the fans and what they’re supposed to do should this come down to the wire. Hotel rooms and airfare for 115,000 people has to be booked in advance, they better make sure to find places they can receive a full refund should they have to cancel. Imagine having to get there a few days early then finding out the CBA couldn’t be worked out in time.

The Winter Classic didn’t exist in 2005 so there was no cash grab for them to lose. Common sense would dictate the NHL would do their best to make sure the game is played. There’s no way of getting around how disappointing it will be if the season is delayed, but it would be interesting to have the Winter Classic kick off the year, wouldn’t it? So it’s safe to assume if a deal isn’t done by Sept. 15, New Year’s would be the next deadline to make sure they can reach an agreement.

The Winter Classic has been a huge success every year and is one of the top revenue-generating events of the season. Klein explains just how key it is to get the game underway and how it would help ease the loss of a shortened season:

The economic pressure generated by the lucrative Winter Classic could act as a brake against the loss of the entire N.H.L. season. The last time Bettman and the N.H.L. owners locked out the players, in 2004-5, the full season was lost.

This Classic would match the Detroit Red Wings against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Ann Arbor, Mich., before an anticipated capacity crowd, which would break the world record for hockey attendance.

The Winter Classic is the centerpiece of NBC’s coverage of the N.H.L., for which the league receives about $200 million a year. The Leafs, the first Canadian team in the Winter Classic, are Canada’s most popular club. Their presence would ensure huge viewership on CBC, which pays the league $100 million a year for television rights.

The game also produces millions in ticket, sponsorship and advertising revenue for the league.

This has clearly become a big deal each season for the NHL, bringing in some very good ratings despite usually going against the highly popular college football bowl games. And it’s good they can go down to the last minute in an effort to save the Winter Classic. But if it really does go down to the last minute, whether or not the agree to start the season by Jan. 1, it will be hard on a lot of people and leave a sour taste in a lot of mouths that won’t go away as easily as it did last time.

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