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Craig MacTavish of TSN has accepted a job with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot (Jacques Boissinot/CP)
Craig MacTavish of TSN has accepted a job with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

The Usual Suspects

TSN stepping stone to head coaching jobs Add to ...

In these troubled economic times, it's nice to know we have a job-producing factory like the TSN hockey panel. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is said to be gobsmacked with the news this past weekend that panelist Craig MacTavish has found gainful employment as the head coach the Vancouver Canucks' farm team, the Chicago Wolves. This marks yet another successful retraining project for job counsellors James Duthie and Bob McKenzie.

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MacTavish follows in the footsteps (foot lights?) of former TSN panelists such as Peter Laviolette (Philadelphia Flyers), John Tortorella (New York Rangers), Paul Maurice (Carolina Hurricanes), Mike Keenan (Calgary Flames) and Joel Quenneville (Chicago Blackhawks) who've parked their loafers under the desk at TSN's studios in Toronto till they've found another job in hockey.

Having spoken to Keenan following his stint on the panel, there's no doubt that the coaches benefit from seeing things from the dark side. And, when they allowed themselves the latitude, coaches such as MacTavish gave viewers insights they mightn't have had before. The downside to this is that once the coaches get settled in, they're hired away, affecting the continuity with viewers you've got with … what's that other coach's name over at CBC? Escapes me.

So Ken Hitchcock, Michel Therrien, Bob Hartley and Co. - you know what to do. Duthie awaits your call.

SIGNING FRENZY

The byword in sports programming these days is self-contained events such as NCAA basketball's March Madness. The NHL has talked about ways of streamlining the playoffs to make them easier to program. With that in mind, perhaps the NFL should package its current free-agent and draft pick signing frenzy that was necessitated by the lockout.

Encapsulating the process into 10 days has been a television, Twitter and radio bonanza for the NFL. The effect has been to steal attention from major-league baseball's trade deadline and get fans talking football, not the lockout, as training camps open. It works for the NHL's trade deadline and free-agent frenzy. The NFL Networks ratings were up 220 per cent over this time last year. The NFL should do this every year. Just sayin'...

LOCKOUT LESSONS

So, class, what did we learn from the NFL's tree-falling-in-the-middle-of-the-forest lockout? We learned that the NHL, the Dunkin' Donuts of sports leagues, convinced owners in other leagues that, if you hold players out long enough, they'll cave. The total collapse of the National Hockey League Players' Association in the spring of 2005 convinced the industry that players making $5-million (U.S.) a year are still living paycheque to paycheque. Ergo, starve 'em out.

So the NFL imported Bob Bannerman, the NHL's lawyer and strategist in the 2004-05 lockout, as its von Clausewitz. The message was clear. Unless we get what we want, players were going to lose their mortgages and their bling and their solidarity (in that order). The National Football League Players Association prudently picked up on this vibe, settling last week before any members missed more than an off-season workout.

NBA players have not shown any indication of absorbing this lesson as yet (at their peril). Major-league baseball players, due for a new deal in the next year, should also be paying attention.

NHL players, who face a new deal in the fall of 2012, don't want a replay of the owners as Brad Marchand and the players as Daniel Sedin. A speed bag to pummel. So hockey players should grab whatever baubles it can get and survive, right? Well, here's where the NHL might set another precedent. If commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners try to sell hardship again, they'll face a skeptical public.

Bettman strapped himself to the mast of fiscal sanity last time, and the public bought in. Now he must make a case that the economic system is still broken. That would be the same system he shut down the league for a year to install. If he goes to the public with a tale of woe he'll encounter the Pottery Barn maxim: You broke it, you own it.

Plus big-market owners are fed up to the teeth of making less money with 30 teams than they could make under 24. So the new rule courtesy of the NHL: You can't sell the same storyline twice. Even the gullible sports audience can recognize a commissioner crying wolf.

ROLLING IN THE ISLES

The New York Islanders have a crucial vote Monday on a bond issue that will presumably lead to a new arena - and a long-term future on Long Island. Islanders hockey fans hope it works, but noted New York Times columnist George Vecsey has some sobering questions. "How much is a hockey team worth? Is it worth $58 a household in a county that may cut bus service? How much is nostalgia worth in a county that just voted to cut 128 jobs?

"Questions about priorities are always worth asking before the public agrees to build new facilities for team owners. The questions seem particularly vital as Nassau County holds a bond referendum on Monday that seems jiggered to produce a new arena for the Islanders." Does the Goldwater Institute know about this?

SMALL CHANGE

The NFL Network's Adam Schefter noted on Twitter that Plaxico Burress may be out of jail but he still has some swagger. That caught colleague Rich Eisen's eye. "richeisen I'm gonna wear '99' in my next contract year RT @AdamSchefter: The "17" in Plaxico's one-year $3,017,000 deal is for the No. 17 he has worn..."

Then this from Eisen : "Guess when the canvas is 123 mil...RT @Syzurz: Amazing that people just have $17,000 with which to paint pretty pictures in contracts."

GRAND "OLD" GAME

Nice to see the Roberto Alomar number retirement Sunday. (What, no Dennis Eckersley video shout out?) Very classy exercise in nostalgia for folks who remember the great Toronto Blue Jays team of the 1990s. But how does this all translate to the younger generation? It's just one voice but 22-year-old Northern Ireland golfer Rory McIlroy is unimpressed with the American national past-time. "McIlroyRory Rory Mcilroy Love all sports apart from baseball RT @PlantJess @McIlroyrory What's your favourite sport other than golf?"

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