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Head: Blurred Vision

By Larry Brooks

The map indicates Gary Bettman is in Raleigh, N.C., for the first game

of the Stanley Cup final, but the commissioner seems to believe that he

is, instead, in Utopia.

Bettman is basking in the perceived reflected glory of a championship

series that features the Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers in the

very kind of small market matchup the hard salary cap is an even bet to

consistently produce over the course of the current collective

bargaining agreement.

This – as much as diluting the red ink the commissioner’s office

insisted infected the league’s bottom line – is the fruit of the

lockout and cancelled 2004-05 season.

“If these playoffs have demonstrated anything,” said Bettman to the

press before Game 1, “it’s that market size has become irrelevant.”

Had Bettman substituted the words “the NHL” for “market size,” and

added “in America” to the end of the sentence, he would’ve been telling

a more honest truth.

This is what the commissioner wished for. This is what he and his

allies on the board of governors shut down the league for. They should

have been more careful in prioritizing their wish list. For while

Bettman might be able to run for provincial office in Alberta, and he

might be hailed in precincts in Raleigh (where, by the way, the

Hurricanes went to the final in 2002 under the old, infamous labor

agreement), his league’s showcase event is essentially off the map in

every significant U.S. market.

It isn’t only the television ratings – or lack thereof – that indicate

as much, though those are the measurements most often cited in

examination of the league’s plight. It’s also – and very much so –

reflected in the lack of attention and space devoted to hockey in

newspapers, which, is most cases, drive sports-talk radio, which in

turn drives the highlight shows on television, which in turn impacts

the decision-making process of newspaper sports editors.

To read the rest of this story and other great features from the world of

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