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(Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke/AP2011)
(Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke/AP2011)

Usual Suspects

NHL trade deadline continues to do huge numbers Add to ...

Like the famous Seinfeld episode The Pitch, the NHL Trade Deadline Day was a show about nothing. Slickly produced, well attended, handsomely attired. But with 15 trades jammed into ten hours of rival programming on TSN and Sportsnet, it was truly much sound and fury signifying Mike Commodore. The networks gave the NHL GMs a bigger stage to dance upon than Jean Dujardin got in The Artist, but hardly anyone even attempted a soft shoe.

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And you know what? The public didn’t care. Numbers released Tuesday by the networks show that the public couldn’t get enough of the sparsely scripted epic. TSN -playing shorthanded without an ailing Dave Hodge - saw an average audience of 259,000 zealots, a record audience. TSN.ca recorded a stunning 20.8 million page hits from fans looking to see if their favourite team (or the Maple Leafs) made a significant trade.

Things were less obsessed over at Sportsnet, where they averaged 98,000 viewers for their 10- 5 P.M. slog, but even that represented an 43 per cent increase over the previous year. Sportsnet.ca received 1.67 million page hits - the best single day result in Sportsnet.ca’s history.

Which can only mean one thing for next year. More nothing. As George Costanza gleefully observed, “I think we really go something here.”

Standing Pat: There were sporadic outbreaks of intensity on Trade Deadline Day. In the backward logic of the NHL, the biggest flurry of action came AFTER the deadline passed. (Don’t ask, it involves lawyers.) TSN’s broadcast peaked at 544,000 hardy souls at 3:50 P.M. ET. There are no ratings for how many people were watching when Sportsnet’s Bob McCown did a gripping play-by-play of Brian Burke scratching his shoulder in the Toronto board room.

But there was also some whimsy from Pat Quinn, who took part in Sportsnet’s General Manager’s Panel. Surveying the rest of his out-of-work brethren, Quinn sagely dubbed his segment The Dead Poets Society. Colleague Brian Lawton may have had the pithiest line of the day when he noted that beleaguered Montreal GM Pierre Gauthier has the personality of “a peanut butter sandwich.” Lawton didn’t tell us whether that was crunchy or smooth.

Brian's Song: Sometimes Brian Burke seems like a Seinfeld character himself. Mr. Tie Askew has made an art form of the bathetic press conference. Not even Christopher Plummer could match the Toronto GM’s performance of “Sedin is not Swedish for punch me.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the house for his “Our goaltender can be identified by the large pads and mask that he wears. He's also the goaltender on the ice that does not dive when he gets brushed.”

And the Academy came to its feet for “I'm shocked that a respectable media outlet like Hockey Night in Canada would allow this garbage rumour-mongering to take place. I'm amazed that whoever produces that show would tolerate this.”

But even by Burke’s maudlin standards, Monday’s plaintive cry for understanding for a small-town boy in a big-league media market reached a new threshold. After having failed to produce an earth-shattering move during the day, Burke blamed the unrelenting pressure of the Toronto media’s TDD fascination for oppressing his lads and for making it too darn tough to swing a deal at the arbitrary trade deadline.

“It’s to the point where I’m debating whether I do what I do around Christmas,” Burke told the press on Monday, “starting our own trade freeze 10 days before. That’s how distracting it is. We just had this discussion upstairs, and I’m wondering if I have to do that here, because Clarke MacArthur’s been traded 10 times, Grabovski’s been traded 12 times. Luke Schenn’s been traded 50 times.

“I think the trade deadline is hard on players, but I think it’s murder on players in Toronto. And we just had a serious debate whether next year we’re going to do this 10 days earlier so the players can relax.” Burke’s admirers point out that this tack is simply to relieve said strain on his drained players by drawing attention to his selfless self. Clever fellow.

Inadvertently he actually set them up for the fall when they keep losing after the trade deadline pressure lifts and he must create a new phantom menace in Canada’s media capital. (Sure enough, the Leafs performed the Heimlich on Tuesday, losing to rival Florida.)

The fact that Burke can disgorge this bushwah on the press when he draws a paycheque from the same source as over half the media he’s castigating makes Uggie The Dog look like a chump. With a team close to missing the postseason for a seventh straight year, Burke is still under far less pressure than he makes out.

As Sportsnet Radio’s Greg Brady tweeted of Burke’s counterpart with the New York Yankees, “Brian Cashman HAS to win World Series EVERY year. Burke'd get an 8-yr extension w/ a playoff round win... I can name you 8 NCAA football coaches who have more ‘heat’ than Burke does. Easily.”

Commish Talk: Not sure if NHL commissioner was fired up by Burke’s touching compassion for his beleaguered boys, but the NHL commissioner did come to the rescue of his old mentor, NBA commissioner David Stern. During taping a segment of NBC Sports Channel’s Bob Costas Show, Costas brought up Bryant Gumbel’s criticism of Stern during the NBA lockout.

“David Stern was eager to be seen as some kind of modern plantation overseer treating NBA men as if they were boys,” Gumbel had said. Stern made a joke about Gumbel’s ratings being down. But his protégé Bettman was succinct, “That is probably the most ignorant, stupidest statement I've ever heard,” Bettman hissed.

Of course Bettman owes Stern, who famously dissed Bob Goodenow’s gamble in taking on Bettman in the 2004-’05 lockout by saying it was the biggest mistake in the history of sports collective bargaining.

What Deadline: Apparently not everyone was impressed after the Marathon Of Hype concluded Monday. ESPN Sportscenter, the older brother to TSN’s Sportscentre, was so packed with features on Kobe’s busted nose, women’s college hoops and NFL combine chatter that it couldn’t squeeze a single word in about the trade deadline goings-on. (Considering the dull thud it produced maybe it was wise.) ESPN did tuck in about a whole minute of highlights, however. Ah, hell hath no fury like an ESPN scorned.

Of course ESPN also ignores MMA, which has a true following in the U.S. Hmm. Trying to think of a connection between hockey and MMA in ESPN’s mind?

Way Way Too Much Info: Vic Rauter ‏@TSNVicRauter “Love the curling season..but the short time between events..means I wear a lot of wet clothes ..squish ..squish...squish..”

 
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