Free Agent Frenzy was frenzied but far from free for the NHL. One battleship (Brad Richards) and a flotilla of canoes were for hire on Friday. At the end of seven hours of live TV, the cameras never even caught the big signing: Richards scored his enormous deal with the Rangers, the team he'd always said he preferred, a day after they'd signed off from their panels and stakeouts,.
How incongruous was the scene Friday? People who should know better were actually using Vernon Fiddler and frenzy in the same sentence. Still, with solid ratings a certainty for TSN and Sportsnet, the networks were fully vested in the small group of profligate NHL teams committing over $300-million (all currency U.S.) in guaranteed money to the canoes in hopes they'd turn into, if not battleships, a cruiser or two.
When the first journalistic gotcha' of the day is a live phoner with defenceman James Wisniewski then you know Edward R. Murrow's legacy is safe. Rogers Sportsnet scored the Wiz after his 100-year, $6.5-million deal went down in Columbus earlier in the day. (Clearly, Sportsnet was exhausted by their scoop and went immediately to the Blue Jays-Phillies game on Canada Day.) When TSN got Wisniewski on the phone the ex-Canadien explained, "I'm a loyal person" as one of his reasons for signing with Columbus, which had traded for Mr. Loyal's rights a mere 24 hours earlier.
Ground zero for the Frenzy was the Mississauga office of Richards's agent where TV crews were ensconced as if William and Kate were planning a drive-by. TSN had nice footage as the Los Angeles Kings brass, weighted down with swag for Mr. Richards, were locked out in the lobby of the agent's office building like so many vacuum salesmen.
Not all the TV stakeout was so serious. The distracted TSN crew in Mississauga trained its cameras on an Irish bar next door where a purported reporter Gino Reda (sporting green pants) popped in for a nip of the Guinness. As the hours crawled by and teams queued for their chance to woo Richards, TSN host Gord Miller deadpanned, "The lineup [is]expected to be two hours long, and deli machine now serving No. 74."
The mind-altering deals piled up but when it became plain that Richards was likely to sleep on his decision, the energy went out of TSN's coverage of the Semyon Varlamovs and Mike Commodores. But sanity prevailed in one area: TSN put the Wimbledon men's semi-finals on its main channel, with the free-agent frolics removed on TSN2.
As it had on Trade Deadline Day, Twitter continued to redefine pack journalism days such as July 1. In the past, reporters concentrated their research on phones, periodically filing to a newspaper or TV/radio station. Fans wanting the latest kept eyes on traditional media outlets where they received occasional missives.
But as Friday demonstrated, Twitter has now become the go-to medium for reporters and fans alike, a steady stream of news, false leads and wisecracks (Down Goes Brown: "After disappearing for days, (Jaromir) Jagr emerges to sign with the Flyers. Says the deciding factor was a chance to play with Carter and Richards.")
If you want to drive eyeballs to your traditional media today, you must use Twitter to direct that traffic. Friday, a small group of Blackberry virtuosos led the industry through the signings. Instead of reporters dashing offscreen to make phone calls, you had them on-set, thumbing through the latest signings. It's a brave new world, but, as we've said, before, it puts far too much importance on the very few (TSN, Sportsnet, Globe & Mail) actually breaking the stories. There are too many of their colleagues, sated by Twitter, dining out on their work.
ON THE MAREK
Is it a one-off or a symptom of CBC's problems in the hockey world? Jeff Marek, host of Hockey Night In Canada Radio and the iDesk, signed off Friday from the network. Marek tells Usual Suspects that he hasn't finalized his next stop yet (sources tell us he's headed to Rogers Sportsnet). But it's plain that, looking ahead to whether CBC can maintain HNIC in the next NHL contract, Marek feels he needs to move to a surer thing in Rogers if he wants to remain with an NHL rights-holder.
For veterans from Ron MacLean to Scott Oake to Don Cherry, this is less of an issue. But if CBC can't hold onto its younger talent, it's a bad sign.
FEEL DA' NOIZ
NBC's Mary Carillo summed up the controversy over Maria Sharapova ("Shriekapova") and her repertoire of screams and moans on centre court. "She's deep into her act," Carillo said Saturday. "She's unencumbered by what we think about the noise she makes." In end Saturday, Sharapova went out with a whimper, flopping against unknown Petra Kvitova in the women's final at Wimbledon.
The hot rumour of the weekend is ESPN snatching rights from NBC for next year's Championships. If it doesn't include John McEnroe or Carillo, we ain't watching.