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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman delivers the state of the league press conference in Chicago, May 28, 2010. The Philadelphia Flyers will take on the Chicago Blackhawks in game one of the Stanley Cup Finals starting May 29. (JEFF HAYNES/REUTERS)
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman delivers the state of the league press conference in Chicago, May 28, 2010. The Philadelphia Flyers will take on the Chicago Blackhawks in game one of the Stanley Cup Finals starting May 29. (JEFF HAYNES/REUTERS)

Bruce Dowbiggin

Bettman behaving badly Add to ...

Thinking of giving the NHL, say, $100-million a year? Wednesday night gave you a sample of the perks you'll receive for your investment.

The commissioner of the NHL will belittle, berate and otherwise blow off your employees on live TV. The man who happily cashes your huge cheque will demean your brand in front of millions. Act brusque. Surly. Argumentative. All this after you'd cravenly crooned Happy Birthday to him on Hockey Night in Canada.

Heck of a bargain, no? Let's be charitable.

HNIC host Ron MacLean - before his apparent Good Samaritan turn Thursday in the Delaware River - sounded like one of those guys speed-reading the side effects of a new drug. (Did he say, "dog breath?" Did he set a Guinness record for most esoteric questions stuffed into a five-minute segment? Can we have an open-ended question?)

Even the most devoted hockey fan (as Bettman indelicately pointed out) didn't have a clue about 99.9 per cent of the issues MacLean was talking about. MacLean's passive/aggressive meltdown stood in stark contrast to the cool, professional manner in which HNIC's Scott Oake had questioned an equally obstreperous Bettman weeks ago.

Still. The CBC pays the NHL an estimated $100-million a year. Getting the commissioner live on air from time to time is part of the deal. Having him act like the rude guest on the microphone at the wedding is not.

Bettman claimed to be suffering heat stroke from his daughter's convocation the day before. That's no excuse. It is another stark illustration of how the NHL takes HNIC's millions and Canada - which supplies the NHL with one-third of its revenues - as an irritant to be borne with great reluctance.

Ratings Riot

The NHL is trumpeting record TV audiences in the United States for its 2010 Stanley Cup final games. The 3.3 rating for Monday is the most for a Game 2 since 1999. It's clear the huge metro audiences - Chicago and Philadelphia - are propelling the numbers (and sales of NHL gear). Almost 40 per cent of Chicago households were watching Game 2, while 28 per cent of Philadelphia households were tuned in on NBC.

It's a good-news equation. Except … if you were NBC, watching these numbers from large markets and deciding on whether to renew a deal with the NHL, would you not be asking the league why it is talking of going back to two small Canadian markets (Canadian ratings don't count in the U.S.)? Or why it persists with so many small markets in its current 30-team format, when you can get these ratings all the time by concentrating on the major markets?

That's the sort of question MacLean should have asked, but opted instead for questions about the now-incarcerated William (Boots) Del Biaggio's share in the Nashville Predators. Real pressing stuff.

(By the way, the recent top non-NHL TV markets were Indianapolis (4.0), Ft. Myers, Fla. (3.5), Las Vegas (3.3) and Orlando (3.2). Ratings for the first two final series games also increased by 213 per cent in Seattle, 140 per cent in Kansas City and 120 per cent in Memphis - nothing like pulled pork and a side of power play.)

Bravo NHL, boo MLB

Now, something the NHL gets right better than anyone else: Wednesday there were two controversial goals in the Chicago Blackhawks-Philadelphia Flyers game; after brisk video reviews, the league got both calls right. Justice was served.

This, even as Major League Baseball committed seppuku in Detroit on Wednesday, destroying its credibility for want of a coherent video policy when the first base umpire botched the call on what would have been the final out of a perfect game for Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga.

A simple solution: Once a game, a manager can ask for a video review on any play except balls and strikes.

(And could it be the Galarraga story didn't lead the next day on TSN's SportsCentre in favour of another Chris Pronger feature on an NHL off-day? Talk about burying the lede. Sportsnet got it right.)

Box Lunch

Fun watching two of Usual Suspects' faves - Glenn Healy (CBC) and Pierre McGuire (TSN) - trapped like characters from Saw in the booth between the benches for Games 1 and 2 of the Cup final in Chicago. (U.S. cable channel Versus has the games in Philly, so Healy's alone.)

So, any duking it out for turf? Pulling Pierre's blazer over his head? Distressingly, the two broadcasters get along.

"It's perfect," McGuire wrote in a text. "I go to the gym and Heals tells good jokes."

"We've known each other for 35 years," Healy said. "Honestly, I'm so busy I don't have time to steal stuff off Pierre's monitor."

Healy says the CBC snub of the between-the-bench position is officially over.

"It's here to stay," Healy said via phone from Philadelphia. "You can feel a hit, you can see how hard a shot is. It adds so much to the broadcast to be down there."

Now, when we will get wild sound from the coach's huddles during the game - as they do in the NBA?

 

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