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Usual Suspects

Coyotes saga continues to give journalistic gold Add to ...

Bankruptcy judge Redfield T. Baum emerged from his legal cubbyhole on Monday, saw the shadow of Jim Balsillie, and now we have six more weeks of media wrangling over the future of the Phoenix Coyotes. Or six months. In finding the RIM billionaire's plan to buy the Coyotes out of bankruptcy a little too clever by half, Baum also offered a template for how Balsillie might yet lead the hockey team out of the desert. So while the NHL won the short game, Balsillie can still pull off the overall.

Ergo, bad news for the NHL equals good news for the Canadian media. The American commissioner (boo!) against the plucky Canuck hockey dad (yay!). Power-mad Yankee lawyers versus the guys in toques.

Which means more press conferences like Tuesday's postgame debrief with Balsillie's chatty lawyer Richard Rodier, more exasperated media availabilities with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and more plaintive stories from shopworn Hamilton over its jilted status. In short, journalistic gold.

Unless Bettman can conjure up a local Arizona rube... er, owner in short order, Baum will be looking upon the indefatigable visage of Balsillie before next season. Which is bad news for Phoenix coach and minority owner Wayne Gretzky, the only real loser so far. His widely reported $7-million salary and uber-generous buyout clauses are now clearly seen as impediments to the 'Yotes solvency.

This Just In: If Baum needed confirmation of the fever pitch for Phoenix's hockey team in Canada, he had only to catch Canada's two national TV newscasts Monday night. CTV led their show with the Coyotes' legal decision, and CBC-- after the requisite political badinage about Michael Ignatieff (who looks more and more like Ralph Fiennes' older brother)-- trotted out the legal decision that day from The Wizard of Odds just seven minutes into Peter Mansbridge's newscast.

Number Crunching: Baum had nothing to do with NBC's robust TV ratings for the Stanley Cup final in the U.S.-- the best in 36 years-- or the solid if unspectacular CBC numbers-- down seven per cent from last year's Penguins/Red Wings final. There is speculation that some Canadian hockey fans might have migrated to NBC's coverage to avoid Don Cherry bathing in the Detroit River or the pithy observations of P.J. Stock, but it was hardly enough to justify the dip in ratings.

Still, CBC will take the final's result after a staggering start brought on by short series and a scarcity of Canadian teams after the first round. NBC is happy too, and-- as first reported by Usual Suspects-- will soon be announcing another no-money miracle contract with the NHL for U.S. network coverage of the Winter Classic, regular season and playoffs. No rights-money down, a generation to pay!

He Said What?: Pros and cons of wild audio in the immediate aftermath of Game Seven. Great: Detroit coach Mike Babcock telling Sidney Crosby as they shook hands-- "Enjoy it... great leadership by you." Wish we could have heard more of the interplay during handshakes (at least after Crosby showed up).

Until we caught a bracing jolt of Phillipe Boucher and Rob Scuderi hoisting the Cup with a brace of F-bombs. Then there was Fleury, asked by Scott Oake his thoughts on his phenomenal final save on Nick Lidstrom, "I said, 'Oh s...t.' " Replied the CBC veteran, "Fair enough."

Fleury also provided a magic TV moment in the overhead shot, patting the crossbar after it deflected Niklas Kronwall's potential game-tying shot. "It made a big save for me, so I said thank you," Fleury told Oake after the game.

Foul Tidings: It was clear the referees had beamed back to 2004, letting just about every foul go without being penalized in Game Seven-- to the delight of NBC's Mike Milbury, Cherry and the chorus of antediluvians on Hockey Night who think it adds to the drama. CBC largely down played the refereeing change. But NBC's Mike Emrick was noticing after Hal Gill slammed Mikael Samuelsson: "And 20,000 referees thought there should have been a call," said Emrick.

Added Pierre McGuire from his perch between the benches: "During the regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs they would have been right." Which led Emrick to note: "Sure has changed, hasn't it?" Definitely.

Burke's Law: Stark contrast between CBC's coverage of the NHL postgame celebrations last Friday and ABC's coverage of the Lakers' win over the inept Orlando Magic on Sunday. ABC sideline reporter Doris Burke offered congratulations to Lakers players, but managed to avoid fawning over Kobe Bryant's hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy or calling Derek Fisher "a heart-and-soul" guy. Burke asked open-ended questions that elicited real responses (gasp). Too bad that she couldn't help the son of Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who won the Rigor Mortis In Speech award when accepting the championship hardware on behalf of Dad.

You Wuz My Brudder: ABC gambled on having its NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy covering his brother Stan, the choleric coach of the Magic. It did not go well. Either the loquacious Jeff (a former NBA coach himself) went mute when his bro's wonky strategy was discussed, or he blamed players for coaching decisions. Case in point: Game Four in Orlando where Magic guard Jameer Nelson gave Fisher half the state of California to hit a game-tying three-pointer. Jeff (the younger Van Gundy) carved Nelson for playing so loose, questioning his mental acuity. Later it was revealed that Stan had inexplicably ordered Nelson to lay off Fisher for fear of fouling him.

It was not the finest hour for ABC.

dowbboy@shaw.ca

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