Wednesday, July 13, 2005

MORE ON NHL SETTLEMENT

Well, click here to get all the details from Sportsnet about the terms of the NHL settlement and I guess my reaction to it all is that I'm glad this mess is finally over.

Most of the reports have a cap at 39 million and a rollback of salaries across the board of 24%. The deal is supposed to run for six years but NHL players can also opt to get out of this deal after four years.

And news of the deal has dominated the media across Canada. Noticed CTV's Lloyd Robertson was interviewing Bob McKenzie tonight on the news. The settlement was also the top story on every newscast in town and has lit up the phone lines on sports talk shows across Canada. Also noticed they were claiming that the Americans were ignoring this story (in yet another "boo hoo, the Americans hate our national sport and therefore are out to lunch" story), but that isn't true either: it got big play on ESPN's web site. The NHL probably thinks it's a great PR move to do this deal during All-Star Week so that they can brag about how great their sport is, that they have their act together and have a deal, and start the hype for all the great rule changes they have in store to make this sport great again. Sure.

Sounds like it's going to be the 1980s all over again, in every respect: we'll have high scoring and mass ignorance from south of the border. That was the state of affairs throughout the 1980s and it's coming back, folks. I also heard they are going to expand the playoffs to 20 teams and have five rounds of playoffs, which is a big joke as far as I'm concerned. Hockey has this terrible reputation for being the league that allows everyone into the playoffs, including all these losing teams. I remember the 1980s when the Leafs had all these terrible teams that made the playoffs because they were in the same division as the God-awful Detroit Red Wings, back in the old days before the Red Wings became a great organization again.

I think this is terrible news, expanding the playoffs, but I guess people were worried about teams like Atlanta being out of the race every year and fan support suffering as a result. This would automatically put Atlanta in the race for the playoffs, whether people like it or not.

They're also going to have the NHL draft lottery next week and it's a complicated format they have for drawing and figuring out who gets Sidney Crosby, but it sounds as if even these winning teams have a shot at him, not only the usual losers. Great, last thing we need is Crosby going to the Red Wings or Avalanche. That's really going to help the sport.

They're going to have the NHL Draft in Ottawa at the end of the month, possibly July 30th, but probably not at the Corel Centre. They'll probably have a scaled-down affair in a conference hall or something like that in a hotel. But at least Ottawa will get to see a draft.

I want to see what happens under this salary cap to these veterans- I think a lot of them are going to lose their jobs are retire. That's what you see all the time in the NFL. I also want to know what is going to happen to these 400 free agents. Man, that is ridiculous, 400 free agents. That's basically the whole freaking league. I'm concerned that you're going to need a program to recognize the lineup on your local NHL team. This has always been a trade-happy league with rosters difficult to follow, but this league is going to be unrecognizable this fall if these players end up moving everywhere.

All in all, I am glad this league has ended this mess once and for all. The league had to end this mess before any more damage was inflicted on this sport and this game. They just couldn't have allowed it to continue into the fall with replacement players or any of that other nonsense they were talking about doing. As it stands, the 301 days of locked-out hockey has really wrecked the sport's image. The sport has been the butt of jokes from late-night comedians and ridiculed by sports writers and talk show hosts. This sport has lost a TV deal with ESPN and countless fans, especially in the United States. A generation of young fans, who could have tuned in and been exposed to NHL hockey for the first time last year, are gone. I don't think we really know the true scale of the carnage yet and I think there's probably a lot of denial. These teams seem to think that if they kiss up to the fans and promote all these freaking "improvements to the game" that the fans will come back. But I don't know.

The one good thing is that the players are guaranteed to play in the Olympics, and the Olympics usually get the biggest ratings for hockey in the United States on TV and are usually a great showcase for the sport, generally. I think it was vital for the sport to get back on the ice, just so they could confirm their status for the Olympics. Frankly they need the exposure the Olympics will give this sport, more now than ever, to try and repair their image with the public. If there's ever a year that Team USA has to win a Gold Medal, it's 2006, just to revive interest again in hockey in the United States. The only hockey that anyone really goes nuts for down there is of the Olympic variety. But I think a lot of fans in the United States won't be back. I'm not worried about Detroit or Minnesota or even Buffalo: those fans are absolute diehards. But have a feeling we'll be seeing lots of empty arenas in places like St. Louis and Chicago and even Los Angeles. I even think the New York teams will be hit hard at the gate. I think a lot of people are worried about the reaction in Boston. I have a bad feeling that the Bruins are going to be one of those teams that will be hit with one of the worse drops in attendance, especially since every team in town has been playing and winning championships of one sort or another (even the Celtics won a division title) while the Bruins were doing nothing, locked out.

The tone of the coverage in Canada, though, seems to be of the celebratory variety, of the "this game is coming back better than ever" variety. So I think lots of Canadians are willing to forgive and forget, and are prepared to part with their hard-earned money to watch hockey games. But I am in no mood to be kissed up to by these hockey players.

They did the unforgivable this year, these players and owners. They killed the entire season and wiped out the Stanley Cup. They didn't care about the Stanley Cup enough to want to play for it. If these people don't care about the Stanley Cup, why should we?

One thing is true for me. I have been and always will be a hockey fan. It is in my blood, and the passion for the game is one of those things that defines us as Canadians. Canadians aren't just fans of this game, they are serious about this game and care deeply about it's issues and problems. It truly is our national game and a part of the fabric of the country.

I still care about the game, and I wouldn't rant and rave about the NHL on this blog site on a regular basis if I didn't care about the game. But after what these people did to their own fans this year I cannot say that NHL games will ever be the same life-or-death affairs for me anymore.

I don't think I can ever take the NHL quite so seriously again.

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