NHL Season Close to Falling Off 'Hockey Cliff'

Will Hockey Survive Another Player-Owner Face-Off?
Nicole Waring | Vetta | Getty Images

We avoided going over the 'Fiscal Cliff." The "Milk Cliff." Even the "Container Cliff."

Now, we are dealing with the "Hockey Cliff."

The NHL, and its $3.3 billion business, has been locked in a labor battle for months — with more than 600 games already canceled.

League commissioner Gary Bettman noted if there's no deal reached with the players' union by January 11, then most likely, the season is completely gone.

That day, folks, is the Hockey Cliff. And although it may seem a ridiculous use of the now-cliche "Cliff", there are serious economic implications for Canada and the United States. (Read More: 'Container Cliff' Avoided Until February)

Several teams have already laid off employees, while others have either furloughed workers or reduced hours. If the entire season is wiped out, which includes the highly lucrative Stanley Cup Playoffs, the cuts will be widespread and, perhaps, permanent.

On an even wider level, all of the businesses surrounding the hockey eco-system have suffered even more.

Joe Kasel owns the Eagle Street Grille in St. Paul, Minnesota. He's been in business for a decade, and his restaurant sits less than 50 yards from where the NHL's Minnesota Wild play to packed houses all winter long — except for this winter.

"Fifty percent of my revenue is from hockey," Kasel told CNBC.

"This [January 11] deadline means either get it done or don't," said Kasel, who is frustrated by all the waiting because opportunities to possibly find other events have come and gone. "If not, let's get something in here to generate revenue."

Kasel grew so frustrated that he wrote a letter to Bettman, explaining how much this spat between millionaires and billionaires have affected small businesses like his.

The final paragraph of his letter sums it all up powerfully:

"While Eagle Street is one business, there are dozens of restaurants that surround the arena; they too have been forced to make difficult financial decisions due to the lockout. The impact on our lives is immeasurable. One city's devastation may not seem like apowerful incentive to end the lockout; but I know this is happening in other cities around the nation. Together, potentially thousands offamilies and businesses are being affected. I urge you to find an immediate winnable solution for the fans, our staff, and the smallbusiness owners that support the NHL."

That story is being played out in all of the 30 cities that play host to NHL teams. (Read More: No Full Talks in NHL Labor Fight)

Here are some other examples throughout the country:

In Boston, the Convention and Visitor's Bureau estimates up to $1 million of economic activity is lost for every home game canceled.

The city of Columbus, Ohio was supposed to host the All-Star Game. That didn't happen and millions was lost.

Then, there's the Winter Classic, the outdoor New Year's Day game that has become as popular as the All-Star Game — and even rivals the playoffs. (Read More: The NFL's 10 Best Cheerleading Squads 2013)

Ann Arbor reportedly took a $15 million hit when that game went away. And the damage to the NHL brand by not having the game isn't measurable with dollar signs.

So, if we go over the Hockey Cliff, it won't throw the U.S. or Canada into recession. But thousands could lose jobs and billions — yes, billions — of dollars won't be spent.

—By CNBC's Brian Shactman; Follow him on Twitter: @bshactman