With its long-running CBA miniseries over, the NHL's most-watched drama now is As Roberto Turns. As in, who will get Vancouver's most eligible goalie, Roberto Luongo?
No surprise. When a hockey story involves Toronto and Vancouver, the Bedlam and Shutter Island of the NHL, the world stands still. Facts are fungible.
On Monday, the defrocked No. 1 goalie revealed that there are more teams than just the Maple Leafs involved for his services. Luongo is willing to go to Toronto if that's what Vancouver GM Mike Gillis says is the best deal for the club. But Florida remains his choice.
These facts shot around the social-media world like Dewey Defeats Truman. As opposed to the famous 1948 newspaper headline, however, none of it was news.
Gillis has always insisted he will take Luongo to Canucks camp if the right deal is not there. The Vancouver GM has no plans to wait till next summer to buy out the Olympic gold medalist from 2010 as an amnesty case. As James Mirtle has shown, his 12-year contract should not affect his marketability.
Toronto GM Brian Burke insists he's not giving up his future to save his present. (And if your uncle had wheels he'd be a bus.)
But don't underestimate Gillis's claim that other teams are in the mix. The odds are good if Gillis trades Luongo it won't be Toronto on Roberto's suitcase. With Ryan Kesler likely out for a while, the Canucks need a centre solution soon, and Toronto doesn't have anyone who remotely resembles Kesler on their roster.
Expect a market of several teams to clarify quickly when teams are allowed to talk trade. And do expect Gillis to use the expression "hillside we'll die on" if the price isn't right.
As we suggested, they take their Canucks seriously in Vancouver:
THREE STEP PROCESS
Across the NHL Monday, teams began lining up to do their mea culpas to fans over the 113-day labour stoppage. Thus far, the league itself remains silent on what it plans to do for fans angered by the lengthy negotiation process.
It's a mistake by the NHL, says one noted sports marketer / researcher, who believes that it's never too early to say you're sorry. "The NHL could have been reaching out to deal with fan reaction before the lockout ended," says David Kincaid, managing partner and CEO of LEVEL5 Strategy Group. "It's something the NFL does well, admitting to its negatives.
"Here's the problem, and here's the plan to deal with it. It's a three-step process: Admit your problem, build a strong core following again, then differentiate between the past and the future for fans and sponsors. You can start reaching out to your fans even before the problem is resolved. A league has to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. "
Complicating that recovery might be that fans blame the NHL, not the individual clubs for the problems, says Brian Cooper, president and CEO of S&E Group. "The teams themselves will come back sooner than the league, because that's where the loyalty lies in Canada. And don't forget that the NBA had a similar lockout last year and came back with stronger branding and metrics than ever before."
NOT GONNA HAPPEN
CTV's president of programming and sports, Phil King, took umbrage at the suggestion in Monday's column that Canadian sports networks might offer the incentive of limited free cable content to lure hockey fans back. He doesn't believe the sports network should be offering incentives, because TSN did not cause the lockout.
"Not sure what incentives would really do in this country, no impact on TV ratings anyway," he said in an e-mail "We need exciting close games, a great schedule, lots of player movement/trades/etc to get people excited, winning Cdn teams would help erase bad memories pretty quick in this country. A tweak to the playoff system would be great to get more teams into the mix as late as possible, this year at least."
CTV's parent company, Bell owns 37.5 per cent of MLSE, the parent of Toronto Maple Leafs. An equal share is owned by Rogers. Keith Pelley, president of Rogers Media, says that, so far, he has heard no criticism of them for the Leafs' role in the lockout. As for the NHL giving its cable package, NHL Centre Ice, for free as an incentive, "That would be a cable decision, not media, and have not heard either way."
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