VANCOUVER -- In a backhanded slap to hockey fans and one of its own sports properties, NBC has offloaded the United States-Canada men's Olympic hockey match to MSNBC, insuring that all those NHL players the network features on many winter Sundays will be watched by an audience of cable subscribers and committed liberals.
This is not, to borrow from
Still, for a league looking for the elusive buzz from participation in the Games -- and one who clasps NBC to its bosom as a partner -- the snub was just one more in an odd sequins of events.
Excuse the terrible joke, but I have just mounted the stairs from a press conference involving NHL Commissioner
And once you got past the blandishments, smiles and disagreeing shakes of the head, this was all about The Road to Sochi 2014. That particular road movie still is in the making, of course. To sum up the action so far: Fasel and IOC president
If you thought Avatar was 20 minutes too long, Gary and René's Road to Sochi 2014 already has been running for years and could go on for a couple of more. There is no drop-dead date for the decision. As Bettman noted Thursday, the decision to participate in Turin coming out of what he calls the 2004-05 work stoppage (but everyone knows was a lockout by the owners) essentially was 11th hour. His buddy will wait for an answer. As fabulous as some of the non-NHL moments in Olympic history have been -- we remind you again of the Miracle of Ice and
Bettman and NHL Deputy Commissioner
Before The Road to Sochi 2014 lurches to a conclusion, the NHL needs to tidy up some issues. In no particular order:
• Licensing. During Salt Lake City 2002, the NHL had the right to have its shield appear with the Olympic rings. That didn't happen in Turin or Vancouver. To extract more from its Olympic participation, the NHL would like more co-branding.
• Scheduling. Like the Players Association, the NHL is concerned about the abruptness of the switch from league games to Olympic games. (Edmonton played Anaheim on Sunday night. This tournament began Tuesday.) A buffer would be nice, in any case, although travel from North America to Sochi would make it imperative.
• Coverage. The league has its NHL Network, but in the Vancouver pecking order, it runs neck-and-neck with The Score. (The Score, for those not privileged to live in Canada, is a tertiary all-sports network that is a non-rights holder here.) The NHL Network does not envision showing games, naturally, but at least it would like greater access to players.
If you had to take a wild stab at the ending, you guess the movie ends with the NHL going to Sochi -- if it can leverage at least some concessions from the IOC and IIHF. Too much is at stake. Those august bodies probably wouldn't be able to milk the aforementioned MoDo-Hamilton games to the extent they do now, especially when they are able to charge $140 for a ticket to a, say, preliminary round Czech Republic-Slovakia game. As Fasel said, "This tournament is a pinnacle in our history." And René's good friend probably doesn't want to be remembered as the commissioner of the National House League. The players would hate it if they couldn't go. And the press would absolutely slaughter the NHL. Bettman is right when he says the Olympics look better for the league from 30,000 feet than they do on the ground, but surely there is a deal to be made here. A joint NHL-NHLPA World Cup, like the one last played in September 2004, offers the league control and cash but not the cachet of the Olympics.
So The Road to Sochi stretches into the horizon, a road to nowhere for at least for another two years. Still, we are always told that we should relish the journey as much as the destination, and Gary and René are making this trip as entertaining as they can.
Maybe MSNBC will show their next press conference.