As the NHL lockout rages on and the players’ union and the owners grow more disparate, the league has been forced to take an unavoidable and unfortunate step.

This afternoon, the NHL will cancel the Winter Classic, according to ESPN.com. Since its inception in 2008, the Winter Classic has been the cornerstone of the league’s regular season — a game where fans of all ages rejoice watching the fastest sport on earth return back to its roots, a frozen pond in the snowy winter.

No such nostalgia will be had this year, though.  The Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs — two of the proudest Original Six franchises -- won’t be facing off New Years Day at the University of Michigan’s football stadium in Ann Arbor.

"It's definitely very disappointing," Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard said. "Not only was I looking forward to it but so were all my friends and family. It was going to be a great event not just for us but all the businesses and hotels and fans excited to see us and Toronto play."

While the Winter Classic is an enormous moneymaker for the league, the lockout has made the New Years Day tilt untenable. If the league canceled the Winter Classic any later than November 2, it would have been obligated to pay for all expenses incurred by the university. Additionally, the NHL would owe $250,000 of the $3 million rental fee as of November 2.

More than lease obligations, the league needed to make a decision about the Winter Classic’s valued accompaniment: HBO’s “24/7” series.

With no lead-up to the big game, HBO and the NHL would be left in a bind. It’d be nearly impossible for the two parties to produce a worthy series with only a few games and a lockout leading up to the Winter Classic.

If the owners and players want to salvage a shortened season, they need to get together soon. While the two sides have agreed to sit down at the same table in the future, no specifics have been set. The players’ union and the league haven’t met face-to-face in over two weeks.