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Same old, same old on hockey TV Add to ...

dowbboy@shaw.ca

From Hockey Night in Canada's Hot Stove to NBC's Pierre McGuire/Mike Milbury combo - with TSN and Sportsnet's rotating panels in between - there is no lack of gossip and speculation on-air. But a limited roster of subjects dominates the discussion. Head shots, honour codes, referee calls, rule changes, plastic elbow pads, setting up the fore-check. Repeat if necessary. Hockey's chattering class could use a dose of Ann Coulter to free up the discussion.

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Usual Suspects asked some non-media NHL figures - on the promise of anonymity - what subjects are underreported by the gaggle of hot-stove pundits. Here are the most popular omissions or oversights.

Salary caps NHL clubs are known by the contracts they sign. The best NHL salary caps - Detroit, San Jose, Vancouver - keep their options open by signing market-value contracts and managing cap space effectively. Yet, outside of HNIC's Pierre LeBrun, few of the talking heads ever rate the comparative GM performances on this essential feature of winning hockey. Chicago's success today is jeopardized by the profligate spending of ex-GM Dale Tallon on Brian Campbell, Marian Hossa and Cristobal Huet. Edmonton's collapse is attributed to everything but the absurd contracts signed by former GM Kevin Lowe (Shawn Horcoff at $6-million per?).

Even when Calgary's about-to-be-former GM Darryl Sutter had his adventures in cap land - playing with 15 men last year - there was only a brief murmur from the panels about changing the collective agreement to bail out the incompetent. Allowing Sutter to sign ex-Leaf Matt Stajan to a risible four-year deal at $3.5-million per this year. Are panelists loath to criticize GMs who are also sources?

Defence is overrated Outside the worst five or six clubs, everyone plays competent defence in the NHL. While TV pundits still regurgitate the old maxim about defence being everything, the elite teams differentiate themselves by their scoring. Likely non-playoff teams Florida, Calgary, N.Y. Rangers and St. Louis are all in the top half of goals allowed in the NHL. Borderline club Boston is the second-best defensive team in the league.

Playoff teams Washington, Pittsburgh, Ottawa, Nashville and Philadelphia are all in the bottom half of goals allowed.

But a quick glance at the NHL's goals-for standings is a more bona fide measure of today's NHL contenders, sources say. And the half-dozen elite teams in the NHL differentiate themselves further by scoring off the rush as well as on set plays. PEDs That would be performance-enhancing drugs. Outside Don Cherry declaring the sport 100-per-cent drug-free, there have been few serious panel attempts to discuss the penetration of undetectable human growth hormone and stimulants in the NHL and minors. Everyone concedes there is some level of use, but no one wants to bell this cat. Perhaps the recent story about the alleged usage of banned substances by a Washington Capitals doctor might spark more interest.

A Trip to The Moon, Alliss

Veteran BBC golf analyst Peter Alliss is fearless on the subject of Augusta National letting Tiger Woods make his comeback there.

"I'm surprised, in a way, they are letting him play there," Alliss told the Times of London. "It would have been rather grand - but would have perpetuated the stupidity of it - if they had said, 'Sorry, we don't want your sort here.'

"But if he had to start somewhere, that's the safest place because it is so controlled. Personally, I think it's a little bit cowardly."

Wait, there's more on what the 79-year-old Alliss describes as Woods's "Fornication Period."

"He's been caught shagging birds. He's not been married all that long, and he's an idiot. If he was sitting here now, I'd say, 'Tiger, you are an idiot.' "

He's not letting stuffy old Augusta off the hook, either.

"They have an air of oppression, an air of fear. You can see it in the way they control the fans - or the 'patrons,' as they call them. It's all bullshit, but it's good bullshit. Everyone is frightened of them, because they don't want to be pushed out."

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