Wednesday, June 08, 2005

HOCKEY WILL BE BACK, SAYS ELLIOTTE FRIEDMAN

Last night I went to a Kiwanis dinner in East York to hear Elliotte Friedman talk hockey.

Frankly, I'm not a Kiwanis member and I don't think I'll ever show up at a Kiwanis event ever again because I'm far too interesting and witty a person for that organization. I'm just not into serving my community or civic-mindedness or any of that, at least not right now. I was there at the invitation of one of my political connections; he told me Elliotte Friedman was going to be there. Plus, there was food there. That was the real reason I went, an excuse to eat.

If you're wondering, Friedman is still employed at CBC Sports (unlike a lot of people who were laid off by the lockout) and has been doing one "make-work" project after another for the past several months, covering really boring amateur sports. His latest assignment was table tennis, or as one audience member mentioned, "ping-pong". So yeah, Elliotte Friedman's had a great year, not, but he's happy he still has a job. At least he'll be doing stuff on the sidelines for the CFL on CBC pretty soon.

Elliotte had a lot to say about the state of things in the world of sports and the Kiwanis crowd had a lot of passionate opinions about the sport of hockey and the general state of things. I'd say about 90% of the questions fielded by Friedman were on hockey and of course, whether it will ever come back.

The news from Friedman is that HOCKEY WILL BE BACK. The unions are basically conceding defeat on pretty much every issue imaginable and plan to settle at a cap of 38 mil. The sense is that they've lost the fight and are simply interested in getting back onto the ice and getting this all over with so they can play again. Friedman also mentioned there were a number of rule changes coming in, like a shootout and getting rid of the red line, and they're still seriously looking at wider nets. So people were interested to hear about that.

Friedman also had blistering words to say about the state of the game and the whole lockout situation, commenting on the infamous ESPN cancellation debacle. He commented again about how ESPN ran poker and a few other marginal sports, all of which beat hockey in the ratings. He also said hockey learned nothing from baseball's infamous strike/cancellation . Baseball was so badly tarnished after the 1994 World Series was cancelled that they rushed to make a deal in 2002, just so they wouldn't all be villified by the public again. As a result, attendance went up and baseball is booming again. But hockey never learned those lessons, and he was talking about how the sport was now a running joke on the Letterman show and all that.

I tend to agree with Friedman that hockey is going to be back, the signs all point to it returning. They are holding practises in Mississauga this week to try out some of the rule changes they are proposing and see the impact. All in an attempt to get rid of the "trap" and make it as unappealing to teams to use as possible, and open the game up again. They wouldn't be doing this if they were planning to be out for the entire season again.

The other thing I can point to is word that the AHL Edmonton Road Runners are going to be gassed next season, and to me it sure seems as if the Road Runners are being put out of business for a reason: they know something, folks. The Road Runners drew one of the highest attendances in the entire AHL and the reason they are folding is so they can make room for their parent club the Edmonton Oilers and bring that team back. (As for the Road Runners, well, this is the second city they have been kicked out of in two years. They should just move that team back to Phoenix.)

Finally, Gary Bettman announced some time ago he wouldn't be bringing the replacements in. That was a big olive branch right there and a sign they're close to getting something acceptable.

Anyway, bottom line is the NHL will be back, it will be a total defeat for the union and not much of a victory for these owners who just lost their TV deal and saw $60 million a year flushed down the toilet thanks to their own incompetence, And Friedman expects a deal to be done maybe next week, but possibly by the end of the month. I hope so. I have had enough of watching English soccer and American sports.

Don't get me wrong, I like American sports and I'm a huge baseball and football fan. During the hockey lockout ESPN Radio has been great, it's as if sports life in the States is completely normal. But I feel when I tune in to American all-sports stations that I'm disconnected with Canada, especially during the wintertime. They just have no interest in any Canadian sports and Canadians, frankly, have no interest in their sports, either. Which inevitably means that during the summer, I end up complaining about Canada and the lack of interest in baseball, and feel compelled to tune into WFAN New York and WGR in Buffalo, just to hear people talk about steroid use and the latest firings and trades, and rant and rave over the Yankees and the Mets. Nobody rants and raves about the Blue Jays here. Instead they want to talk about the shut-down Toronto Maple Leafs, these chumps.

Anyway, it will be great if hockey returns, then they can start the long process of trying to put this sport back together after the mess they made of it. Oh, and by the way, welcome officially to the off-season. Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the Tampa Bay Lightning beating the Flames to win the Stanley Cup in Game Seven. We have all officially survived a full season with no NHL hockey without going crazy. Way to go, hockey fans!

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