Thursday, February 17, 2005

Remember Wally Pipp, says ESPN honcho Mark Shapiro. Hey, it wasn't that long ago that the NHL wasn't on national TV at all (see the prologue of my book for a memory of that).

And indeed, it's sad enough when poker or lacrosse or indoor football draws a few more viewers than the NHL, but of course they can put on A10 basketball or Tilt and bring in twice as many eyes. So why would they want hockey back?

Hell, I'll bet ESPNews' ratings were way down on Wednesday, what with three straight hours of Bettman, Goodenow and Melrose.

It's ironic really. Bettman really did take the league into the future, and you can't tell me everybody didn't make a lot of money for a while doing so. But if you believe they aren't making money now, then it was all about as meaningful and lasting as the boom. The real crime (again, if you believe that things are really bad), was not when the owners overpaid their players, but when the owners overpaid to join the league, and Fox overpaid to have a glowing puck, and Nike overpaid to make the sweaters, all of them fueled by a misguided synergistic corporate vision.

Hey, maybe the best solution, one that would require major givebacks by both sides, is to literally go back to the '70s. Start with the abolishment of the instigator rule of course, but what I really mean is, accept that hockey only functions as a major league in 10 or 15 markets. Let those teams have the $50 million cap, let all the others form a separate $20 million league.

Problem is, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa would never accept breaking off from Toronto and Montreal, while the Habs and Leafs (if you tried to start, say, an all-Canadian league with Quebec, Winnipeg and Hamilton) would never break off from the Red Wings, Bruins and Rangers (nobody gives two hoots about the Blackhawks anymore--they may as well be Tampa. Except that Tampa's good).
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