You couldn't swing a cat Saturday night without hitting a story about all the Canadians playing on the Chicago Blackhawks (12) and Philadelphia Flyers (14) in Game One of the Stanley Cup final. Which is what the media does when there isn't a Canadian team in the final: imply that you have to have lotsa Canadians to win it all. (Tell that to the Detroit Red Wings.)
What few stories also mentioned is how many Canadian NHL stars now would rather wear Lady Ga Ga's stilettos than play for most of the franchises north of the border. For a bevy of reasons - media overkill, chronic losing, crummy taxes, travel, lack of palm trees and swimming pools 24/7/365 - it's getting harder to persuade Canadian unrestricted free agents to stay home when they have the chance to call the shots. Scott Niedermayer popularized the trend by famously spurning Calgary for Anaheim in 2005 because of the lower stress of playing in sunny southern California for the same money.
When players talk to their agents these days, their priorities are 1) financial 2) winning 3) lifestyle 4) media pressure. Currently, the Canadian franchises are battling perception problems on all the above - and that's with a 95-cent dollar. Edmonton is the players' version of Devil's Island since Chris Pronger put the scarlet letter on the Alberta capital by ditching the Oil. GM Darryl Sutter's throwback philosophy and diminishing returns in Calgary have added the Flames to the USA no-fly list. Stolid, climatically challenged Ottawa is attractive only if they have a shot at the Cup. (Hands up those who think that's imminent.)
Montreal with its language issues, punishing taxes and media maelstrom must massively overpay (Scott Gomez? Roman Hamrlik?) to attract or retain free agents - and even then French Canadians have treated the place like a communicable disease. Toronto's fishbowl is a masochist's paradise unless the Leafs win - and we know how long that will be if they keep giving away Taylor Halls. Vancouver travels more than George Clooney's character in Up In The Air, but it at least seems like a possible contender with a player-friendly infrastructure.
And that's before the resurrection of Winnipeg and/or Quebec City. So the Cherry Brigade can justifiably brag about Canadians' success in the playoffs - they just can't be assured the lads will stay loyal when they get leverage to choose between Hollywood tinsel and Tim Hortons.
As you might expect when the No. 3 and 4 local U.S. markets play, the NBC overnights are boffo - the best Game One in 11 years. … Is it possible Gary Bettman's media presentation is getting worse? His two latest appearances suggest his media handlers are either asleep or dead. At Friday's State of the League, Bettman looked about as edgy as Montgomery Clift in Judgment At Nuremberg. This on the heels of his oleaginous appearance recently with Scott Oake on Hockey Night in Canada. Aren't you supposed to get better at these things? … Didn't Flames president Ken King originally say he considered McMahon Stadium a poor fit for his club's inaugural outdoor hockey game? Wasn't it supposed to be scenic Banff? Then again, King still considers Sutter a general manager. … Nice ESPN story last Tuesday: "The Tampa Bay Lightning have called a press conference later today to announce that former rival and multiple all-star defenceman Steve Yzerman will be named as the new GM." Yes, hockey's catching on in the States.
Channel Your Enthusiasm
We get it that Sportsnet is programming to get customers to subscribe to all four of its channels. But why was the Pacific network getting a Blue Jays game Wednesday night when the western and eastern channels showed the Vancouver Whitecaps playing in Montreal in the Nutrilite soccer tournament? Then the promo announced eastern and western channels would also have Vancouver visiting Toronto next week. What's the purpose of regionalizing programming if you don't give Vancouver its home soccer team and shove a meaningless game upon the Prairies? Sportsnet tells Usual Suspects it was simply a programming decision to share the most product with viewers.
Their Rod And Staff
Finally, the bond between an NHL team and its play-by-play announcer is unique. So things will not be the same in Edmonton as Rod Phillips, the voice of the Oilers for 37 years, is pulling back from the job with 10 classic casts next season. Like most hometown announcers, Phillips will never be accused of impartiality. But his calls of the Gretzky years in particular are unforgettable.