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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Good Gary, Bad Gary

Gary Bettman is annoying...despite the occassional effort like above to make us giggle.

The NHL Commissioner oversees an operation that alternates between near-genius and buffoonery.  Just when you'd like to hand out a rare pat on the back, you're forced to pull your hand back and shake your head in disbelief over another incongruous decision from league headquarters.

But we may have to be nice to Bettman for a while following today's announcement of a fairly historic 10-year, $2-billion-dollar television deal with NBC/Versus

There is no disputing the magnitude and significance of the pact with NBC Universal/Comcast.  The current agreement pays the League $75m from Versus and $0 from NBC -- now owners will rake in nine-figures annually.  That blows out of the water the NHL's last agreement with ESPN, which was worth $120m per season from 1999-2004.

The game will now be promoted on "20 [NBCU] networks and another 40-plus digital platforms".  Starting next season, with the second round, all playoff games will be exclusively on an NBC property, which means you can watch whichever game you want.  No more relying on your phone, your computer or NHL Network for updates of games not shown in your market.

And all of this springs from one of Bettman's greatest (s)hits -- refusing to bend over for ESPN and taking the game to OLN post-Lockout.  The Worldwide Leader (plus Fox and Turner) flirted with Bettman during these negotiations.  And while those three still have more reach than Versus, the game is better off on channel 481 (on my Time Warner NYC box).

Gone are the days of "where's OLN/Versus?"  People know where the channel is now, and if they don't, that's on them, not the NHL. Number of households, presence in hotel rooms, etc. are still issues, but on Versus the League is the lead.  Not the NFL, college hoops, MLB, Conan O'Brien or Everybody Loves Raymond repeats.

Some will try to negate the glow of this deal with their confusion over the non-suspension of Vancouver pest Raffi Torres and the one-game bans for Pittsburgh winger Chris Kunitz and Tampa Bay loon Steve Downie.  Torres, fresh off a four-game punishment for a head shot on Edmonton's Jordan Eberle, leveled Chicago's Brent Seabrook behind the net Sunday night.  Kunitz elbowed Simon Gagne, while Downie obliterated Pittsburgh defenseman Ben Lovejoy in Game 3 of their series Monday night.

Kunitz and Downie got what they deserved.  Some think Torres did not.  But after over a dozen reviews of the play, Campbell called the Torres situation correctly (for a change).  Torres did not lead with and/or extend his elbow.  He did not leave his feet.  He might have targeted Seabrook's  upper-third and he blindsided the Blackhawks' blueliner.  But Torres or any player can't be asked to pass up a clean hit just because the victim isn't looking.

This is not the normal Campbell suspension cluster-f.

Another one...or some other self-inflicted probably coming soon, though, so the Commissioner better enjoy this love while he can.

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