I thank you because, unlike many hockey writers, you seem to get it. I know you're a Wall Street Journal writer, and the WSJ isn't exactly known for being a great sports writing haven - but you, my friend, have hit it square on the head. In fact, you must be a reader of this blog part of the time. Case in point:
The league and union ought to swallow their pride, retreat from a few markets
that have consistently failed to gain traction – the NHL remains an afterthought
in Nashville and South Florida – and, for the love of all things decent,
permanently table any talk of further expansion to hockey hinterlands like
Kansas City and Las Vegas. A game already taking positive steps would look even
better with a more concentrated talent pool free of talent-poor fourth-liners.
Fantastic paragraph. It's straight to the point and hammers home that the league as it is now is a bit diluted. Of course, my argument that Herr Bettman helped that along by following John Zeigler's starter-mission of collecting expansion fees is the root of the issue, but that's neither here nor there right now.
The inspiration for the piece appears to be ESPN signing CBC's Don Cherry to provide playoff analysis. This is rather curious since ESPN got out of NHL broadcasting after the lockout. Well, what I meant was Herr Bettman decided to show those lousy upstarts at the Worldwide Leader of Sports who was boss, especially after just about every anchor and commentator on ESPN opted to make fun of the league during the lockout rather than report the news in a mostly objective manner. He decided to show them up by jumping on board the Outdoor Life Network bandwagon.
Another ace decision from the fearless leader.
The way I see it, ESPN wants another bombastic personality on board to get fun quotes and potential ridiculous antics out of. At the very least they'll get ridiculous suits from Grapes and should the Finals turn out to be Detroit and Pittsburgh, they might get some of the xenophobic maniacal verbage I'm sure they're hoping for. A Cup Final with two teams heavy on talented Europeans would make the very Pro-North American Cherry go out of his mind, especially Detroit whose captain hails from Sweden (Nicklas Lidstrom). You could also bank on Cherry hammering away on the fact that a European captained team has never won the Cup.
That sort of talk is a long way off, however.
If anyone is looking at this move as anything resembling ESPN trying to get back into the hockey game, they're sorely mistaken. Bettman, begrudgingly, makes good points whenever he's grilled about turning away from ESPN. Sure, he privately and semi-publicly grouses about the treatment the league got during and after the lockout, you can't blame him for that. He also points out that the NHL wouldn't get the kind of prime treatment he's looking for out of ESPN. You'd likely see the NHL be a mostly ESPN 2 program and since the NHL would be competing for airtime on the network with the NBA, NFL and college football and basketball...well, I think we all know where hockey would rank out in that pecking order - probably about on par with the Arena Football league.
Now, ESPN is all about the big personalities. Bob Knight doing NCAA Tournament coverage is a prime example of this. He's a big name, he's got no qualms about sharing his opinion and he's not a made-for-TV pretty face either. He is the game, he is reality. Same thing with Don Cherry.
That said, Cherry's opinions and antics on CBC are must-see-TV in Canada and there's no one on TV in the United States that can come even remotely close to caring about hockey the way Grapes does and there's not a guy at ESPN that loves the game nearly as much, save for perhaps John Buccigross. For this reason alone its worth it to bring Cherry to sports fans in the USA, its a shame it has to happen on a network that shrugs off the NHL so badly.