NHL Lockout 2012: Is canceling the Winter Classic the final stage to losing the entire season?

Gary Bettman and the NHL will need to make a decision about the Winter Classic soon. Will canceling the Classic mean the end for the NHL season?

As Hurricane Sandy continues to slam my house along with the entire East Coast of the United States, very little hockey news has trickled through the cracks. Nor should it. Neither side seems to think it's important to get a deal done sometime soon, so media outlets have taken to talking about more important things.

But while hockey fans throughout New York are either stuck without power or stuck in their homes, the NHL is creeping closer and closer to "The" deadline. That deadline is the day Bettman and company need to make a decision on the Winter Classic.

But is it also the deadline for both sides to save a season? Not an entire season (that hope has pretty much flown out the window) but a season. Maybe 45, 55, 65 or even 70 games?

There have been no official reports to confirm my speculations, but I think they derive from a pretty logical place. If Bettman has to cancel the crown jewel of the NHL's regular season, the negotiations are only going to get more intense. To this point emotions are already at an all-time high, this will only continue to throw gasoline on the fire.

The Winter Classic is one of those events that brings outside fans to the NHL. It's one of the few events (aside from the playoffs) that gets the casual or even non-NHL fans to say, "Maybe I will check that out and see what's going on." Donald Fehr knows how important it is for growing the game, Bettman knows how important it is for the NHL's bottom line and both sides know how much of a discrace it would be for the game to be cancelled.

But that's unlikely to move talks forward at all. The NHL wants to take the game off the table to avoid it being used as a bargaining chip; along with the monetary contributions that must be made to the University of Michigan to use the Big House. Either way, if the game gets wiped, forget about both sides coming to an agreement.

If you think the NHL is being stubborn now watch what happens if Bettman needs to cancel the Classic. If you think the owners are being unreasonable now wait until they hear what losing the game will do to the bottom line. And if you think the players are pretty much at the furthest point of their dignified stand, watch how much further they will go when the NHL blames the players for the lack of negotiations that drove them to make that decision.

It's going to get ugly, folks. There's no way around it. The two sides are as close as they have ever been in this process and yet they are still too egotistical to find some time to meet. Both sides have made no attempt to talk to one another (except for the NHLPA offering to talk to the NHL, although they were asking to do so without the intent of giving a new proposal or negotiating off the NHL's deal) and each side is continuing to just sit and smolder instead of actually taking to one another.

Which is a great way to get nothing done.

Which is why we're here.

Hopefully Sandy has passed you by already. If not, grab a beer and hunker down. You may as well do the same for these CBA negotiations. The only difference is that those aren't going to be done by the end of the week.