Top Shelf: Hope for season slipping away

As if the first 326 canceled regular- season games weren't enough, the NHL's showcase event -- the Winter Classic -- is now on the chopping block.

For many, the annual outdoor game was going to be the event that had the cache to help salvage the NHL's 2012-13 season.

After all, the Classic is worth millions of dollars in revenue to the NHL every year and this season's proposed showdown between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor had the potential to be the biggest of them all.

However, like just about everything in NHL these days, the loss of the Winter Classic is all about dollars and cents.

According to various reports, even though the league has only canceled regular-season games through Nov. 30, the Winter Classic, which is scheduled for Jan. 1 as usual, has to be nixed this week in order to save the NHL a few million dollars.

The league agreed to pay the University of Michigan $3 million in rent for use of the Big House and its 100,000-plus seats, but the NHL can recoup all but $100,000 of that if it cancels the game before Nov. 2. Reports suggest that, barring a miracle, the official announcement of the event's cancellation will come down either late Thursday or on Friday.

Since no formal labor talks have taken place since the last round of rejected proposals a few weeks ago, there seems to be no way to save the New Year's Day game.

Unfortunately, if the owners and players are willing to continue their staring contest at the expense of the cash cow that is the Winter Classic than it doesn't leave one hopeful concerning the prospect of salvaging the season from the scrap heap.

With the lack of news on the labor negotiation front, it's hard not to be cynical about the chances a 2012-13 season happening. If millions of revenue dollars ($720 million by some estimates) flying out the door due to canceled games isn't enough to spring the owners or players into action, could we believe anything is powerful enough to move the dial?

These warring factions have become entrenched in their beliefs about what the next collective bargaining agreement should look like and neither side has given the slightest indication that they're about to budge.

The lack of communication between these two sides has left what few optimists remain to look for hope in telephone conversations between Steve Fehr -- brother of Donald and special counsel to the NHLPA -- and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

The reality is two whole weeks have passed since the last formal labor meeting. Those talks, which were anything but fruitful, count as the recent high-water mark in these so-called negotiations. That fact is sad, but true.

Who knows? Maybe there will be a season without the Winter Classic and the league will simply relaunch the event at the Big House on Jan. 1, 2014, but the stench of missing out on the outdoor game this year will linger.

The Winter Classic is supposed to represent the best of hockey. It effectively strips the game to its basic elements and returns it to a time when the sport was far from becoming a multi-billion dollar industry.

To lose the Classic because two sides can't decide the best way to share $3 billion is unconscionable and simply unfair to those who love this sport. For the owners and players, however, it's just another pawn in their game.