NHL needs to avoid a Classic mistake

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NHL needs to avoid a Classic mistake

Nobody wants to overstate the importance of any one day in the NHL lockout, but today is crucial when it comes to forecasting hockeys future.

The pessimists (realists?) have been predicting the cancellation of the leagues centerpiece Winter Classic for more than a week, and many believe it will happen today. When it does -- if it does -- it will mark the moment things got truly ugly for both the NHL and the NHLPA.

Today is the deadline for the league to send a 250,000 contracted payment to the University of Michigan, which is hosting the event. If the NHL decides not to write the check and pulls the plug on one of its crown jewels, well, that could spark the kind of doom usually reserved for comic book super villains from Latvia.

The NHL would simply be following through on its long-anticipated move of cancelling the Jan. 1 game between the Red Wings and the Maple Leafs in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In so doing, it would wipe out a glorious day that was not only supposed to break league records for revenue from a single event, but would create a winter festival atmosphere in a beloved hockey town.

It would be also the latest in a series of kidney punches hockey fans have endured over the first 47 days of this labor war. More than 300 regular-season games have been cancelled over the last two months. But the axing of New Years Day festival would mark the first loss of something everybody expected to survive the lockout.

It's cancellation would wipe out the kind of feel-good day the NHL will so badly need whenever it returns.

Think about it: It wasn't until the September 1995 night in Baltimore, when Cal Ripken played in consecutive game number 2,131, that Major League Baseball truly started healing the wounds of the 1994 strike. As NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr -- who was the head of the baseball players' union during the '94 strike, which also wiped out the World Series -- found out when he first began meeting with media from Montreal this summer, there are throngs of Expos fans who have never forgiven MLB for cutting short a magical season at Olympic Stadium, one in which the Expos had the best record in baseball when play stopped.

It's almost 20 years later, and they still remember.

The good people of Michigan -- not to mention hockey fans everywhere -- will have the same kind of long-lasting ill will if their Winter Classic is taken away.

The NHL appears hesitant to continue on with Winter Classic planning given the financial capital that's required, the long-range planning that's needed . . . and the goodwill that has to exist on both sides to make things work on New Years Day. Sources have indicated the NHL feels the bitter feelings and raw emotions left over from the lockout would damage the fairy tale aspect of the Winter Classic even if hockey is being played by January.

While thats understandable, the league should look at it from the other direction. Hockey will need signature events and big moments to win back the disenchanted fans.

The snow globe Winter Classic is the biggest club remaining in commissioner Gary Bettmans bag, and he loses leverage once he uses it.

Perhaps the Jan. 1 game in the Big House in Michigan -- with as many as 120,000 fans from Detroit and nearby Toronto expected to pay top dollar to attend -- is the one cathartic moment that will allow NHL fans to forgive and forget. Thats something the league didnt have when it attempted to make amends with its paying customers after whacking the 2004-05 season.

And remember: Removing all possibility of a Winter Classic also rips the heart out of anybody that loves the game of hockey. Sure, it doesnt mean that the entire 2012-13 season will be cancelled. But if the Winter Classic -- and the profits that go along with it -- become a memory, then the loss of the entire season becomes a very real possibility.

Some, given Bettman's past history, are resigned to the fact that there'll be no hockey this year.

But were not there yet.

Unfortunately, the cancellation of the Winter Classic would be a giant step in a direction the NHL shouldn't want to go.

Those with agendas talk about how the lockout is already doing irreparable damage to the NHL. But thats simply not true at this point.

If the NHL and NHLPA agree to keep the possibility of the Winter Classic alive through Nov. 15 -- probably the latest date in which all the preparations could still be made -- and come to an agreement that would start the season on Dec. 1, fans will forgive the greed and arrogance thats been shown over the last two months. People wont remember the bad times when the Red Wings and Maple Leafs suit up before a record hockey audience, and it will all seem like a fading bad dream once the Stanley Cup playoffs get cranking in April after a shortened season.

But the NHL needs to send forth an olive branch, and that starts with extending the life of the Winter Classic while finding some way to make a capped escrow system work within the parameters of a make whole provision. Hope is something that will keep hockey fans going, even though the NHL and NHLPA have given them little-to-nothing thus far in negotiations.

If the NHL and Gary Bettman cancel the Winter Classic today, they might as well just cancel the rest of the season while they're at it. Because it will destroy the one thing -- the public's goodwill -- that theyll desperately need once the business of hockey resumes, as it inevitably will.

And its already in dangerously short supply these days.

Turner jokes that Celtics will retire his number

Turner jokes that Celtics will retire his number

It’s not the craziest thing someone has said on Twitter, but Evan Turner tweeted Monday that the Celtics should retire his number. 

It was a joke, of course, as the former Celtic was reacting to news that Isaiah Thomas had said he liked the No. 11 and would change his jersey number if so many people in Boston hadn’t already purchased his No. 4 jersey. 

After Turner joked that No. 11 was going to be retired, Thomas joked back that he would wear No. 11 as a tribute to the current Trail Blazer. 

Prior to being traded to Boston, Thomas wore No. 22 for Sacramento and No. 3 for Phoenix. 

Curran: McDaniels staying with Pats shouldn't be a shocker

Curran: McDaniels staying with Pats shouldn't be a shocker

For weeks the speculation regarding Josh McDaniels wasn't a matter of "if" but "when."

But while national media had McDaniels signed, sealed and delivered to multiple landing spots, the proposition that he'd leave at all was never a likelihood. 

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The Rams weren't attractive to him from the outset. Jacksonville didn't excite him, either. And on Monday, he passed on the 49ers opportunity. 

The lure of a blank slate in San Fran at quarterback and GM didn't outpace the uncertainty of going cross-country to work for a seemingly dysfunctional franchise that's cycled rapidly through coaches and has an unrealistic sense that it's a long, long way removed from its glory days, the only remnant remaining from that being perhaps the logo on the helmet. 

With four kids and a job McDaniels considers one of the 10 best on coaching -- head man or no -- he will stay on as the Patriots' offensive coordinator.

"I was really impressed with (Niners owner) Jed York and (team executive) Paraag Marathe . . . and the people that came from the 49ers organization," McDaniels said on a conference call this morning. "They did a great job with their presentation. Humbled to be included in that process. At this time it's just best for my family and myself to remain here in New England and focus on this year's playoffs and finish out the year however it turns out."

The same faulty speculative reasoning that had McDaniels as good as gone from the Patriots will move on undeterred today and surmise that McDaniels is staying with the Patriots because he knows, or has been promised, that he'll receive the head coaching job when Bill Belichick steps aside. 

While the Kraft family certainly thinks highly of McDaniels and that could come to pass, anyone tapping their foot and checking their watch waiting for Belichick to step down is in for a long wait. He's showing no signs of wrapping it up and, while I haven't been told directly McDaniels isn't the automatic successor, he wouldn't be taking interviews at all if he were assured that. 

What will be interesting to see is whether interest remains high in him for other jobs or the perception that he's never going to leave means teams don't bother to ask. San Fran obviously had its heart set on McDaniels. Even though Nick Caserio passed on the chance to interview with the Niners for their open GM job, the team did talk to Louis Riddick about the spot. He and McDaniels have high regard for each other. 

Between McDaniels, Caserio and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, the people closest to Belichick on the coaching flow chart all had chances to go somewhere else and all passed on the chance. It's another example of not why the Patriots are good but why they remain good. Stability.