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The Globe and Mail

No benefit of the doubt for NHL or its commissioner

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to reporters at a news conference Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010 at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. The NHL gave itself a pat on the back Monday in the wake of a thrilling Olympic overtime final."The 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver served as the latest affirmation that the quality of our play and our players is the finest in the world," Bettman said in a statement.

Ryan Remiorz

Perhaps NHL commissioner Gary Bettman felt the passing of former International Olympic Committee supremo Juan Antonio Samaranch has left the condescension reservoir short by a gallon. Perhaps it was all the anti-Canadian accusations levelled at The Commish of late. Perhaps it was simply a bad canapé in the owner's box.

Whatever the reason, Bettman was at his patronizing best again this week in Los Angeles, blaming the media and fans for "innuendo and insinuation [that] is both insulting and pure fantasy" in the Daniel Sedin "SkateGate" controversy from Game 3 of the Los Angeles Kings-Vancouver Canucks playoff series.

"Unfortunately, the guys in Toronto versus the fan, they're really good at what they do," Bettman said on Wednesday. "And you know what? If they made a mistake - and they didn't - then move on."

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Indeed. In the world of the NHL commissioner, it's the media's fault the man who made the non-goal call last Monday went on record to say he thought a potential Kings' Stanley Cup was marvellous. It's the media's fault NHL vice-president Mike Murphy sounded like a man explaining how to assemble IKEA furniture when he appeared on Hockey Night in Canada to explain the Sedin call. It's the media's fault the league quietly changed its rule on kicking the puck without letting its stakeholders in the stands and the press box know. (We thought it was too tough to make quick decisions in the NHL? Oh, that's just for head injuries. …)

You see, NHL headquarters is a model of clarity under Bettman. That's why the league spinmeisters are telling Sports Illustrated it has comprehensively looked into drug charges surrounding the Washington Capitals - even as the NHL's director of security is reportedly telling police no such investigation has happened.

Is there an innocent explanation for all this? Is Murphy an honest man? Did the Pope grow up eating schnitzel and kuchen? Probably.

But the NHL's blanket denials and supercilious attitude since Bettman took the reins in 1993 does not warrant benefit of the doubt. Or as The Beatles once said: "The love you take is equal to the love you make."


Not happy times for the New Jersey Devils, one game away from elimination in the NHL playoffs entering Thursday. (For Jersey fans, losing to the Philadelphia Flyers is worse than all those shots from New York Governor David Paterson.)

And fans of the Devils reading Gannett's New Jersey-area newspapers may wonder if they're getting the skinny on their team. Gannett Co. Inc. has been employing Eric Marin to write its Devils stories; Marin is an employee of the NHL team.

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Huh? It appears that while the Devils are well-covered in the northern portion of the state, the team wanted better coverage in the rest. So it pitched the idea of Marin, who was blogging for the team, to write material for those papers. Gannett saw no problem with the arrangement.

"As long as it served our readers and we told them where that content was coming from, the readers were fine with it," Hollis Towns, executive editor of The Asbury Park Press, told The New York Times.

For traditional journalists, this crosses a line. But in a climate where newspapers are struggling to survive, having the home team supply material might be a sign of troubled financial times. (Gannett doesn't pay for the articles.)

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban suggested exactly this idea two years ago, as a remedy for losing NBA coverage in a local market. Acknowledging that beat coverage of a team is very cheap advertising, Cuban proposed teams pooling resources to supply copy that ensures the local rags will survive.


Finally, good luck at ESPN to Adnan Virk, formerly of The Score. He's off to the Connecticut campus next week - the latest in a long line of Canadians heading to the all-sports U.S. cable TV giant.

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