April 28, 2011

Fischler Report: New TV deal a big deal for NHL

by Stan Fischler

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman (photo: Getty)

What’s so special about the NHL’s new TV pact with NBC?

For starters, the decade-long agreement means that NBC regards the NHL as one of its prime sports.

What’s more, the relatively high tab came about because ESPN, Turner Sports and Fox each wanted a piece of the hockey-video pie and got nothing in return. However, their collective bidding drove up the price higher than hockey experts ever dreamed was possible.

This means that NBC and its affiliate, VERSUS, will be the hockey network kings in the United States and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman gets full credit for lifting his league to new viewership heights.

Perhaps most interesting is the fact that – once again – the NHL has spurned ESPN, and for good reason.

Bettman, who owns an elephantine memory, has not forgotten how ESPN treated his league like the Banana Republic of sports. Hockey was so deeply buried on that network and shabbily-handled by the ESPN bunch that it was downright insulting to any serious followers of the stick and puck.

Trust us, this commish does not savor insults lightly.

In VERSUS, he found a smaller network entity but one that would give hockey prime time, show many games and would grow as rapidly as the sport it covered.

Under the new deal, VERSUS will show 90 games exclusively during the regular season and this, in turn, will pay off ad-wise.

Equally compelling, for those who like a good network fight -- and who doesn’t? Comcast, with this deal, is officially going to war with ESPN. As such, it will re-launch VERSUS as direct competition to ESPN and will eventually call the network NBCU.

The Wall Street Journal summed it up best when it reported, “The new hockey deal is a big step for the NHL.”

Gossip

* Terrific goaltending insight from former UMass-Lowell star Dwayne Roloson, whose 1-0 shutout in Game 7 Wednesday lifted the Tampa Bay Lightning past Pittsburgh: “It’s not just one individual. It’s everybody doing the little things to win. It’s the little things that lead to the big picture. You can’t just come up with a picture that’s going to sell for a million dollars. It takes the little brushstrokes all the way through.” …

* Nifty comment from the TorontoSun's Steve Simmons: "Wouldn't it be great if the ageless and peerless Teemu Selanne used his free-agent status to sign with Winnipeg and finish his NHL career where it actually began? That is, assuming Winnipeg is in the NHL."

More Simmons on Winnipeg: "Why the big deal about Ilya Bryzgalov saying he won't play in Winnipeg? He's not the first player to say this. He won't be the last. When Charlie Simmer played for the Kings, he once said the best thing about Winnipeg was the airport: 'That way, you know you can always leave,' he said.”

Nothing against Winnipeg, but the fact is virtually every NHL owner – Canadians included -- would rather see the Coyotes survive in Phoenix, if that's possible. The Lords of Hockey realize that it's more important, TV-wise or otherwise -- to keep teams in major markets. Whether Canadians like it or not, Phoenixis one and Winnipeg is not. …

* The Islanders have a potential prize playing in Lewiston, Maine. That would be 6-foot-3, 176-pound left wing Kirill Kabanov. Picked by the Isles in the third round, 65th overall, in the 2010 NHL draft, the Moscownative is starring for the QMJHL’s Lewiston Maineiacs. Thanks to Kabanov, the Maineiacs knocked off Monctonin the first round and then upset the second-seeded Montreal Juniors in the second round.

Our James Ryan, who has been following Kabanov's rise, delivers this insight: "If Kabanov can maintain the spring momentum he has shown in the 'Q' playoffs, finally utilizing his world-class hands, he could jump to Long Islandto play alongside John Tavares, Michael Grabner and possibly even Nino Niederreiter.

* The Globe and Mail’s Bruce Dowbiggin has an eye-catcher: “If the NHL has its way, the 2012 playoffs may be staggered. With the new U.S. broadcast contract allowing NBC and partner Comcast exclusivity over the playoffs, the NHL wants to take a page from NCAA March Madness and stagger the start times of the games so they don’t all go to intermission at the same time.” …

* Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reports that as recently as two months ago, the Blue Jackets expressed to the NHL a desire to move to the Eastern Conference. “We have an annual review with the league, and that’s where it came up,” club president Mike Priest said. “I asked the question: What would the procedure be in the event that a team from the West needs to move to the East?”

It’s all hypothetical at this point, Priest noted. Nothing will happen, but at the earliest it won’t happen for at least a couple of seasons, if it ever happens.

Stan Fischler can be reached at FischlerReport@aol.com.