There is little need to join the chorus that includes Michael Farber at Sports Illustrated, Cam Cole at the Vancouver Sun and Larry Brooks at the New York Post, who got off on some of the better rants about the Stanley Cup final not starting until June 5. Far be it to point out any members of the press corps, especially those from Canadian outlets, could always ask their bosses to let them pass on covering the final and devote less coverage to hockey (fat chance).
The questions really are what you do as a fan who's followed it all season (not watch the final?) and how late the final could run in 2010, when the Olympic hockey tournament in Vancouver will run from Feb. 16-28.
On the first question, Hockey in June does not work from a fan's perspective, never has, never will. Three years ago, CBC lost a million viewers between Games 1 and 2 of the Edmonton-Carolina final (it went seven games, which brought casual followers back).
The games can be very well-played, but to borrow a phrase from Mark Moore's book Saving The Game, the players are not on the hook if it's hard for an observer to get inspired. It is weird to wake up on a gorgeous Sunday in May and realize the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings are playing a third-round game that afternoon. The day is much better suited to going on a long walk than being indoors watching hockey. Nevertheless, the NHL blunders on:
"If the series begins June 5 and goes seven, it would be the latest-finishing Stanley Cup final in a non-Olympic year since 1999, when Brett Hull's toe-in-the-crease goal won it for Dallas at 1:30 a.m. Eastern, on June 20 — after which I distinctly recall NHL senior vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell telling me the league simply had to find a way to end the hockey season before June." — Cam Cole, Vancouver SunThe reality is only with the NHL do you have long-time followers saying, "I just wish the season could be over with." Baseball still manages to wrap up in October more often than not. The NBA improved its product by eliminating the long layoffs between games (David Stern also made a good deal with TNT so the Association wouldn't have to Gary-rig its schedule to suit a broadcast network).
This has the air of "renovating the restaurant you don't own," but there's a common-sense solution. The league could shorten training camp and pre-season and start the regular season around Sept. 20. The salary cap dictates who is going to make the team. The players have have personal trainers to help them stay in shape. The four-week training camp is just a holdover from the old days when players spent their summers pounding beers and looking for a piece of strange. The teams would save money, which heavens knows a few such as Atlanta and Tampa Bay wouldn't mind.
Meantime, there is the fun question of how late the season might run in 2009-10. The NHL's TV contract with NBC is up. That might eliminate the possibility of once again, as Farber put it "ben(ding) over backwards to plant a big wet one on the backside of the Peacock." ESPN would be more accommodating. That is counter-balanced by the Olympic break. Sports Business Journal reported a while ago that NHLPA boss Paul Kelly wants an even longer break that the league has in mind, so the NHLers can march in the Olympic opening ceremonies.
The point is the obvious (obvious since it was obvious three bloody seasons ago, even to a self-acknowledged master of the obvious). Nothing good happens after June 1. The NHL has to put that into practice, just as everyone eventually learns nothing good happens after 2 p.m.
The whole Winnipeg question
It deserves to be passed on. Tom Brodbeck, the City Hall columnist at the Winnipeg Sun, had the heart to break the harsh reality for all the Bring Back The Jets-Setters:
".... what it really boils down to is what owners can charge for ticket prices versus what their player salary costs are projected to be.Again, that doesn't mean it's folly to root for a Jets revival. Brodbeck pretty much hit the nail on the head. Winnipeg is not a town of big spenders. There is kind of a warehouse mentality, which is not necessarily bad or something to be made fun of, but it's undesirable to the NHL.
"It's really that simple when it comes to sustaining an NHL franchise.
"This is not the NFL or Major League Baseball, which enjoy lucrative television revenues. TV revenues for the NHL are modest.
"NHL teams rely much more on gate sales to pay the bills. And there's a huge difference between a team that can sell tickets for $50 to $70 and ones that can sell them for more than $100. A half-decent ticket for a Vancouver Canucks regular season game, for example, is $130. Is there enough jingle in the jeans of Winnipeggers to pay that kind of freight on a sustained basis?
"According to Statistics Canada, we have among the lowest average weekly wages in Canada. In 2008 only PEI, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had lower wages than Manitoba.
"This isn't the 1990s, where you can sell $7 hockey tickets at 7-Eleven. The world of hockey has made a tectonic shift since we last had a team. And being near the bottom of the Canadian wage-earner list does not help our cause."
Cash and the NHL; Manitoba's economics are not inviting (Tom Brodbeck, Sun Media)