Perhaps the NHL should just consult a horoscope over the start of the final round of the playoffs. Like a nervous bride choosing the perfect date, the league has tried every other means to please the TV gods. A June wedding? Too late. A Friday in May? Canadians might balk. A Saturday in May? Americans might balk. Midweek in June? Jay Leno will pull a hissy fit at NBC. What to do, what to do?
Under the NHL's original plan, the final was set to start June 5, nine days after Pittsburgh eliminated Carolina in Game 5 of their conference final and eight days after Detroit presumably defeats Chicago. All of this to please NBC which pays... oh, about $100-million less than CBC for its NHL TV rights. When the endless hiatus until the final was mocked in the press, earlier dates were advanced. Somehow these dates proved problematic, too.
"We'd like to see (the final) start on Friday or Saturday," a becalmed CBC vice-president of sports Scott Moore told the Team 1040 morning show in Vancouver. "NBC is not as flexible as we have been with our prime-time scheduling. It's in nobody's best interests to have a nine-day layoff, so I think it'll get worked out."
The discord over dates reflects the league's entire broadcast philosophy. As mentioned before, Chicago owner and saviour-de-jour Rocky Wirtz is not enamoured of the strategy. Asked by the Chicago Sun Times about "changes I'd make if I were NHL commissioner", Wirtz growled "Find a way to get NHL games back on ESPN."
But NBC's Dick Ebersol, who gets NHL games rights-free in a cozy pre-nup designed to grow the league's U.S. footprint, thinks Versus is a good fit. "Versus treats hockey the right way, not second fiddle, as it was on ESPN," said Ebersol to the Chicago Tribune. "Versus is in 20-million fewer homes, but the holes are tightening. And don't forget, Versus is owned by Comcast. I like that strength.''
(Ebersol then went on to blow a rather large hole in his argument by praising the work of Rocky's inept father, the late, lamentable Bill Wirtz who personally kept Chicago hockey hostage for 35 years.)
CBC's Moore does not agree with Ebersol.
"If it's just from a fan's standpoint of view, I think they should be on ESPN," he told the Team 1040. "The reality is there are 40-million homes in the United States that don't get Versus. The other advantage being on ESPN is you get a higher profile on Sportscenter and Sportscenter is the show of record. If your highlights, your shows are not on Sportscenter, that affects the viability of your league. Gary took a gamble at the time... I'm not sure it has worked out totally. If it was me, you want to be on ESPN."
The repercussions from Niklas Kronwall's devastating check on Martin Havlat reverberated through the media this week. Havlat, who appeared knocked out by Kronwall, played in Chicago's next game Sunday and left that contest immediately after absorbing another hard check. Media types and casual fans alike wondered how Havlat could play so quickly after the Kronwall shot. Most brain experts say any knockout results in a concussion-- and protocols call for at least seven-days' rest after a concussion.
Under the NHL's absurd don't-ask/ don't-tell policy governing injury disclosure in the postseason, no one will say for sure if Havlat was concussed. So it was left for media voices to speculate. Speaking on The Fan 590 in Toronto, former NHL defenceman Jeff Beukeboom-- whose career was ended by severe post-concussion symptoms-- decried Havlat's rapid return.
"I think it sets a very bad example for the kids," said Beukeboom, who feels players will be vulnerable to coercion by teams if there's the false impression of a quick remedy after a concussion.
TSN's Bob McKenzie-- whose son has battled post-concussion syndrome from a hockey incident-- was vocal on both radio and TV questioning the optics of Havlat rushing back into play.
"The seven- day rule is actually from when the athlete is symptom-free," McKenzie wrote Usual Suspects. "But if he has a headache for three days after being hit, he's supposed to wait seven days from the time he was symptom-free, not from when he was hit in the head.
"All of this is aimed at protecting the brain, which doesn't respond well to second impact. In fact, there's a condition called, I think, second-impact syndrome. If a concussed athlete, say Havlat, goes back into game action when his brain is concussed, if the brain gets a second contact directly on the same part of the brain, death can be instantaneous."
Expect the debate to continue in the media so long as the NHL remains in denial about head shots.
"You're better off to initiate than retaliate," said CBC's Greg Millen after Dennis Seidenberg was penalized for tripping Sidney Crosby. Glad he cleared that up for the kids. Although Scott Walker made the point better when he whacked Aaron Ward in the last round.
Hang Your Head
SportsNet New York's Ron Darling killed the kid's puppy on Tuesday after the Mets blew the game the night before. "I'm telling you, teams are not as vested as you guys - you fans - at home," said Darling, a Met on the 1986 World Series winners. "To some at home, you might think that's incredulous, how could they not be thinking of what happened last night? For ballplayers, they're taught a loss is a loss - move on."