Friday, November 12, 2004

FORBES WEIGHS IN, AS NHL MESS CONTINUES

THANKS VERY MUCH, MR. FORBES

Well it's been an eventful day in the NHL lockout. Forbes Magazine has now weighed in with a story on the NHL lockout situation, with a story insinuating that the NHL losses amount to some 96 million dollars--- far short of the 273 million claimed in Arthur Levitt's audit of the league. So the union has been having a cow today over the article because they say the league is lying about their losses, and the owners are having a cow because they claim the numbers in the article are BS. Ted Saskin of the NHLPA said Forbes' integrity was "unquestionable", whereas Bill Daly of the NHL called the article "irresponsible journalism."

PR-wise, this is the first piece of good news for the NHL players in a long time. The players have been taking a beating all through the lockout on the PR side, but now this Forbes article gives them something to crow about and a bit of leverage. I think it's good. Maybe Gary Bettman will feel compelled to negotiate with these people. Or maybe not.

So that's basically the controversy of the day in the NHL. Beyond that, the league's woes continue. More players are taking off for Russia, and to the Swedish Elite League. So life is good in Russia and Sweden for those hockey fans. They're all getting to see all-stars. But North American fans are the ones getting hosed. And the way things are going, they could be getting hosed for the entire season. I'm really worried about this. It's getting to the point where these players are increasingly in a position to say to heck with the NHL. The players are missing NHL paychecks, but they are finding other jobs. Some of these European teams are paying big bucks to these guys. So these players are in a position to stand up to the NHL and force the NHL to capitulate to their demands to forget about a salary cap. The NHL, on the other hand, says it'll cancel the whole season unless they get their salary cap. This looks increasingly grim. But I don't think there is going to be any movement until December at the earliest. This is a standoff at the OK corral, and no one will move from their entrenched positions before Drop Dead time. So we'll see what happens in December. No use worrying about it.

We'll see if people buckle under to the pressure in December to get a deal done. They'd better. Right now, Saturday nights are a pathetic joke in this country, TV-wise. And what's with the mid-week programming on TSN? It's a joke! Showing "classic" hockey games like old Canada Cup matchups gets, ahem, really old. Really old in a hurry. Thank goodness the Raptors are back- otherwise there would be no decent sports to follow during the week.

AHL ON A TEAR

The American Hockey League has positioned itself nicely as the "replacement league" providing the only top-notch pro hockey out there right now. They are now going into NHL cities and holding games. Last week the Rochester Americans had a game at HSBC Arena that drew 12,000 people, and then in San Jose, the Sharks' affiliate Cleveland Barons hosted the Edmonton Roadrunners. Again, a big crowd in five figures- not bad for the farm league.

In December the AHL will be celebrating its "return" to Toronto with two games involving the St. John's Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. The Leafs host the star-studded Binghamton Senators (Jason Spezza and all) on December 1st and 3rd. I am expecting a big crowd for both nights as well. Next season, the baby Leafs are moving permanently to the Ricoh Coliseum; had they moved this season they could have cleaned up and played a ton of dates to huge crowds. They are thinking of calling the new team the St. Pat's or the Arenas, two former names for the NHL Maple Leafs.

In other news, the major networks in this country still haven't decided whether to show any European hockey games. The problem is that nobody in Canada cares about hockey in Sweden. Looks like they won't show any European games unless the whole season goes belly up. And speaking of belly up, there are rumors that the Original Stars Hockey League may finally, at last, be near the end. What, you thought they folded? You're not alone. Forgotten but not gone, that's the OSHL right now. That 4-on-4 league is still in business- last I heard they were playing games in the Maritimes- but this league has been ravaged by small crowds and by players defecting to Europe. There was a report in the Toronto Sun saying the league may finally be out of money. So they could be toast, finally.

THE RAPTORS

In other sports news the Toronto Raptors have shocked the world and are off to a 4-1 start. The Raptors are right now on a West Coast swing, hoping to keep their winning ways going. Tonight they face the Seattle Sonics. As a side effect, the winning means that Vince Carter is no longer yapping about wanting to be traded. For now.

The arrival of the NBA again has done wonders for the sportscasts in this country, which now has a bunch of hilites to show again in lieu of NHL goals and fights. In fact, sportscasts in this country are looking more and more like American sportscasts. You have NBA hoops during the week, and lots of football on the weekends. This weekend the CIS and the CFL have tons of playoff action going on, so sports fans in Canada will be happy watching football on TV. And basketball fans ought to be happy. The Raptors have a golden opportunity to establish themselves for all time in Toronto during this lockout and if I were them, I'd make the most of the opportunity. So far, so good.

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