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State of the NHL


Phil

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Figured we might as well start talking about it, seeing as this season has come to a close, and this is about to become the premier issue in hockey.

An interesting article (another Couchmaster thing) I found really expressed my feelings well.

Turn out the lights

07-Jun-04

The main story of this, the last Stanley Cup finals for a while has nothing to do with the actual game of hockey. Or great players like Jarome Iginla coming to the forefront or Dave Andreychuk saying goodbye. Or even about two undergdog teams climbing to unprecedented heights.

Nope. Instead it's all about who is watching. Or more to the point, who isn't.

There are tons of stories around on the actual games of course, and on those players, teams and coaches, but what's getting the most notice is how the series is being viewed south of the border.

It's not.

The American ratings for this year's series have been the lowest since U.S. networks began carrying the Cup final in 1998.

Wags are having a field day with what is outstripping it ratings wise.

Cam Hutchinson of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, on all the female Flames fans who have been turning postgame celebrations into a "Girls Gone Wild" exhibition:

"If the NHL really wanted to boost TV ratings in the U.S., it would skip the game and go right to the action on 17th Avenue in Calgary."

Bob Hille of The Sporting News, on why surveys indicate so many more Canadians than Americans are watching the Stanley Cup playoffs:

"The ratings are skewed by the other Sutter brothers tuning in to watch Darryl coach."

Dan Bickley in the Arizona Republic:

"To those screaming about how NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman upstaged the Stanley Cup Finals by holding a news conference and drawing great attention to the upcoming labor battle: Calm down. No one was paying attention in the first place."

Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

"Overall, the national TV rating for Games 1 and 2 of the Lightning-Flame series has been a 1.1,"

"That's America yawning. That's a Romania-Belarus soccer number. ESPN could air a rerun of a mah-jongg tournament and get that. In fact, Game 1 barely cracked the list of top 20 cable telecasts that night, stumbling in at 19th and trailing (among other shows) a Cosby rerun."

Up here of course it's a different story. Saturday's Game 6 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames drew 4.673 million CBC viewers, making it the second-highest rated NHL game ever for the network.

Only Game 7 of the 1994 final between Vancouver and the New York Rangers, the last time a Canadian team played for the Cup, drew more, with 4.957 million tuning in to watch the 3-2 Rangers win.

Tonight's game seven should top that.

So - time to panic right? The American's ain't tuning in. The NHL had to sign a new pathetic TV deal with NBC for literally no money. And to top all that, with the labour negotiations coming to a head, it looks like our game is in for some big trouble.

All I can say is - "Yes!"

Followed by "It's about frikin' time."

The NHL is beloved in Canada because it is our game. It thrives here despite having to pay the players in oil inflated American dollars. Huge numbers watch on the tube. Arenas are crammed despite a pair of tickets, a few dogs and beers costing more than a mortgage payment.

Down there high school sports highlight shows are outrating the Cup finals - in the city that's hosting the event!

Up here the game is as strong as it could be. Down there it appears to be on life support - if not already planted.

So, isn't the solution obvious?

I mean, what does it take for the powers that be in the game to see the light?

The NHL is the "National Hockey League", and that nation is Canada.

Why doesn't the league just forget the States? I mean, they've forgotten about the NHL - so why not just return the favour?

When the NHL blows itself to smithereens on September 15th, a Phoenix, (and I don't mean the Coyotes) could rise from the ashes. A lean mean league. A Canadian-centric league. One with eight, perhaps even ten teams in the country that cares about the game. And in the States, only hockey markets that have proven to work.

Forget Tampa. Forget LA. Forget Anaheim, Phoenix, Carolina, Atlanta. Cut ten teams south of the border. Move some to Quebec, The Peg and slap one in Eastern Canada, maybe even Hammertown.

The result? A smaller, more fiscally sound NHL. Tie salaries to revenues. Give the players and the owners an equal share. If everybody makes money everyone gets a piece of the action. If there are loses, everybody suffers. The changes would result in a new NHL. One with no pretensions of being an NFL, NBA or MLB.

Who would want to be them anyway? Instead the NHL would be proud of itself for what it is:

Canada's hockey league.

A dream?

Maybe - but tinkering with this mess isn't going to change anything. The reality is, this has to be torn down and totally rebuilt.

Blow her up real good - as one great Canadian once said.

And luckily for the deep foreheads in charge of the game, there's a model.

Another Canadian league, the CFL.

When the CFL overreached themselves and expanded into the States, that league was also on the verge of extinction. What they did, albeit through an act of desperation, was to cut the chaff - as in the franchises that weren't working, and go back to their roots.

Their Canadian roots.

Just a few short years later that league exploding in popularity. Franchises are thriving and the league is expanding, not just in old given up for dead markets, but in new ones as well.

Can you imagine affording season tickets again?

Can you imagine going to games again?

Can you imagine the league back where it belongs?

All that's required for that to happen is for the powers that be in hockey to imagine it as well.

Through an act of desperation the CFL resurrected itself from the ashes of near destruction.

Do you think the NHL is desperate enough?

And if not - shouldn't they be?

I mean - what will it take?

The NHL being outstripped in ratings by say, a spelling bee perhaps?

Oh, ferget it - too late.

So talk about it... what do you think of the labour dispute? How do you feel about the Couchmaster's proposed league?

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The whole players begging for more money thing always makes me puke, but I'll look at this objectivly, like the NHLPA wants you to look at it: The players want a fair portions of the vast revenues created. It isn't starving miners or anything close, but they still want to see it through that spectrum.

The thing is, an abritrary cap number can not be just dug up like in other sports. Teams are literally dying in Canada and some US markets, and a low number has to be held that will keep salaries where they are or lower. That's why I don't expect them to agree on some strante 55mil cap or something. It would have to be lower then 40 mil to be at least semi-useful.

I would propose the system the NFLPA tried in the early 80's: One where a percentage of gross revenues is thrown into a pool, and the money is allocated based on a formula based on years, top 10 in stats, etc. It would be perfect for all: Imagine not caring what a players salary is, eh? But, alas....

I want a few less teams in the league. Cut Carolina, Nashville, Florida, Anaheim, Pittsburgh, Phoenix. Go to 4 6 team divisions, and back to the old playoff seeding, to guarantee all areas are represented in the final 4.

Revenue sharing is a necessity. It has to be done.

All the NHL has to do is two words: Replacement players. Then, they will win. That's what football did, and now their union and league work together for the best future.

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All the NHL has to do is two words: Replacement players. Then, they will win. That's what football did, and now their union and league work together for the best future.

agreed, although it failed in baseball.

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All the NHL has to do is two words:  Replacement players.  Then, they will win.  That's what football did, and now their union and league work together for the best future.

agreed, although it failed in baseball.

I thought they didn't even try it?

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It is possible that the WHA is the x factor in this. Some players may be able to go and play there- better than sitting at home after all! And for a year or two at least who would blame them.

I actually don't think a rise in the salary cap is a bad move for anyone in the league. Those who can't afford it, just pay less than the cap. Yes there teams will be less succesful, but if any thing should operate in a free-ish market sports should. There is no point levelling the financial field between the poor teams and the rich, because its unrealistic. Make the little teams rely on good coaching and management, and the well run small teams will survive and thrive. I would say see how this goes for a year or two and then aim for a retraction for something like 2006-7. I would also, as controversial as it might be, aim to get more teams into Canada. A kind of retraction/relocation thing. Look for a league of 20-24 teams with at least 8 based in Canada.

Also fire Bettman and replace him with a canadian- its important hockey returns to markets it knows. The NHL isnt the NBA and shouldn't act like it if it is going to succeed.

I don't t think in the long run the strike will come to much, maybe a lock out for a half season or whatever, common sense will prevail as much as anything else because it has to for the league to survive, and that is in the players interests.

If I had the kind of money the WHA must have I would start a European hockey league and pay biggish bucks to try and get the Russians and Swedes and Czechs and whatever into it- teams in places like Gothenberg, Prague, Moscow, as well as London, Paris and wherever!

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All the NHL has to do is two words:  Replacement players.  Then, they will win.  That's what football did, and now their union and league work together for the best future.

agreed, although it failed in baseball.

Replacement players!!!! (Note to self: get back into shape, my Sharks might need me!!!)

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This is my article for thefeeder.com , a Sharks news site:

...And Now We Wait

Painful and long offseason await players, fans

Wait and see what happens. That's all you can do now. The countdown to September 15th begins now. Armageddon in the National Hockey League is near. But is it deserved? At this point, most likely. When you have a situation developing where an emergency fund for teams is established four years before the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expires, it tells you how determined the owners, the commissioner, and the players association want to get things done.

What can happen? Well, barring a miracle, the same thing that happened in 1994-95 can happen, and be even worse. Atlanta, who host the 2005 All-Star Game, is likely to be the first casualty along with games in October and November. If a deal isn't reached by January, the new ring on the Stanley Cup will continue to be empty until at least May 2006. Also, teams who are taking a beating in revenue as it is, could look for a way out if a lockout or strike takes a long time. Pittsburgh, Carolina, and Florida look very ominous if the CBA isn't finished. After that, its up for grabs. Teams may relocate. One report has had one time Penguins, Hartford Whalers, and Minnesota North Stars owner Howard Baldwin try to buy the Penguins again, but move them to Hartford. One scenario that has been talked about is teams relocating back to hockey cities. With Winnipeg's True North Centre set to open this fall, some say that the Manitoba city will try and get maybe Florida or a southern team that is not doing well.

As for viewing hockey? Let's just say there will be more Sharks games on Fox Sports Net next season (pending they play an 82-game season) than ESPN2 and NBC do combined. Per the "revenue sharing" deal the NHL got stuck with, NBC will show seven regular season games, and Games 3-7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. ESPN2 will show 40 regular season games, along with Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and have exclusive coverage of All-Star Weekend. That's right ESPN2. Outside the Stanley Cup Playoffs, ESPN will not have hockey, as it will likely expand its NBA coverage. Plus with Hockey Night in Canada's Don Cherry announcing his departure from CBC, a possible John Buccigross and Cherry combo could be something NBC might grab onto.

As for our beloved Team Teal? Rest assured that they are not going anywhere. The Sharks are locked up in San Jose until 2015, when the naming rights agreement with HP expire. That said to the ice we go where General Manager Doug Wilson will be a very busy man. Unrestricted free agents with San Jose include Vincent Damphousse, Mike Ricci, Jason Marshall, and Todd Harvey. Restricted free agent notables include Curtis Brown, Rob Davison, Niko Dimitrakos, Nils Ekman, Scott Hannan, Scott Parker, Wayne Primeau, Mike Rathje, Vesa Toskala, Jonathan Cheechoo, and Evgeni Nabokov. With TSN reporting that Sharks President Greg Jamison saying that the team still lost money despite nine playoff sellouts at the Shark Tank, payroll trimming could be a possibility. At the same time, management may take the chance that if a CBA gets finished and a season is played, look for perhaps a run at a player through free agency. Also note, Marco Sturm and rookie Milan Michalek will be back to bolster the speed and skill of this team to reach even higher levels.

Well, it's been fun all season and now to breakout the game tapes to calm my hockey withdrawals. Thanks Team Teal fans, and now we sit and wait...

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All good, except that Don Cherry would NEVER NEVER NEVER go to the US. He said he'd retire if CBC let him go.

Amen.

Don Cherry ain't a play-by-play guy either. He doubt he'd call a good game. His comments after the game are gold, but he wouldn't be able to get off any good tangents during the game.

Otherwise, that's a terrific article Erik.

Nice work.

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