Thursday, February 17, 2005The Morning Toast (Part 1): Ice Capades
Personally I think hockey as we know it is over. With no deal imminent and no real TV revenue or contract to speak of, the league doesn't have anyone pushing them for a deal. ESPN has said that from a programming standpoint that gain to make more money off of additional college basketball games and reruns of poker.
Actually if you believe Ed Sherman of the Chicago Tribune, the league has lost its leverage with the World Wide Leader in Sports and ESPN might not be interested.
As for what ESPN might do next season, [ESPN Executive VP of Programming] Mark Shapiro said: "What next year? As far as we're concerned, they're on lockout. At this point, we have to make other plans."
The thing is that Gary Bettman was so close. He did what he wanted to do, he broke the union, got the union to agree to a salary cap and it was very owner-friendly. In the end Bettman wanted more and he stuck with the hardest of the hard-line owners who really didn't want to play this season.
Risky move? Possibly.
Downright sinful? According to Richard Justice it is.
Even when it became clear he was wrong, Bettman smugly compounded the mistake by failing to admit it. In an attempt to make his sport more appealing, he changed so many rules that even the fans who cared passionately about it in the first place became alienated.
Now my problem with the sport is the current lack of skills. The ice pundits can talk about hockey being far more exciting then what's being shown on television but I've covered six NHL Stanley Cup finals games in the last two years and believe me, the neutral zone trap is as excruciating in person as it is on television. Clutching and grabbing anyone who dares try to play offense looks just as frustrating in person.
So I hope Bettman is honest when he says that the product we'll see on the ice will be a different a better product. One free of the trap, one free of ridiculous goalie pads, one with shootouts and the end of the two-line pass. One without fights and thuggery.
Because if it isn't better, the NHL is in store for the doom that the sports world fears. Or as Rod Brind A'Mour said.
“This isn’t basketball, this isn’t ACC football. They could take probably 10 years off and pick up. This is a fragile sport, we’re trying to build it here. We need to get back out there.”