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NHL’s latest embarrassment is on schedule (Trending Topics)

Ryan Lambert
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Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

The day after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game is the slowest day in sports. It's the only day out of 365 and sometimes 366 on which there are traditionally no games being played by the four "major" North American sports.

In Major League Soccer, the New England Revolution lost to the Colorado Rapids 2-1 and 10-man Chivas USA handed Toronto FC a 1-0 defeat, but the sports world largely failed to notice this occurrence and for relatively good reason. Meanwhile, MLB stretched the one-day-off after the All-Star break to two for what appears to be the first time ever, leaving a sports-less Thursday night.

Really, nothing at all worth talking about happens on this sports dead zone day, which happened to fall on Wednesday, and would have, in theory, been a pretty good day for the NHL to release its schedule for the 2013-14 season.

Another reason that it would have been a pretty good day for the NHL to do this relatively simple thing is that it was scheduled to do so.

However, it wholly failed to do that, and then the same thing happened yesterday. The closest thing we got, and I swear this is true, is that George Richards of the Miami Herald got a hold of what appeared to be a leaked copy of the Panthers' schedule, and so devoid of anything worth mentioning was the day, and really this entire part of the month, that beat writers league-wide started publishing when their teams would be facing off with Florida in excruciating detail.

The world has not paid this much attention to the Panthers all at the same time ever in the 20-year history of the franchise, and while it's nice that the league's decision to not release the master schedule allowed them that much, it's also a total embarrassment.

Let's suppose that the National Hockey League wants very badly to be taken seriously as a top sports league, and live up to its designation as being one of the four major ones in any appreciable way.

Not releasing the schedule for the coming season on the day that it has told everyone it would do so is a great way to not-accomplish that goal. Do you think beat writers covering MLB or NBA or, god, NFL teams can't set their watch to their leagues' master schedules coming out on the exact second they say every season? Do you think it would have left those reporters to advise their readers (see also: the league's fans) to check back in tomorrow and then the next day see where we're at? Of course not. Those leagues are run by people who appear to occasionally be somewhat competent.

The NHL, meanwhile, leaves fans in the lurch regularly, largely because it has an unfailing and almost admirable ability to never stop stepping in the piles of dog feces that it not so conveniently leaves lying around, as if it were trying to build a minefield of ineptitude.

The reason the schedule is delayed, of course, is at least somewhat understandable. The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi loom pretty large right in the middle of the season, and if the league is going to participate, it will have to take nearly three weeks off from regular play.

You can't very well release a schedule without knowing whether you will participate, can you? It's an understandable issue.

Except for this: Everyone alive knows there's no way the NHL doesn't go to Sochi. It is a guaranteed thing. That the decision will come is as certain as Gary Bettman being booed at every public appearance for doing things exactly like this all the damn time. USA Hockey already named a bunch of NHL management types — most notably Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and Predators GM David Poile — to positions with the team it will send there, and you have to think if there was even a little bit of a question as to whether the NHL would participate, they might hold off in deference to all those billionaires who pay them lots of money. But they're committed to going to Sochi because the NHL is certainly going to be.

And yet we wait.

The reason we're waiting is pretty simple too, though: League management is trying to get all hard-assed about things again. It wanted the IOC to pick up most of the tab for player insurance because that's really expensive, and so the IOC agreed to do that. In June. The league also wanted players and owners receive more benefits for their families or other guests, like hotel rooms and transportation and meals and so on. This was also agreed-upon. And that was the last we heard, more than three weeks ago at this point.

The IIHF originally wanted to have all these issues hammered out by the end of May, around the end of the World Championships, because that would be a fun and cool thing to announce for international hockey at that point. But clearly, Rene Fasel has very little experience sitting across a negotiating table from Gary Bettman. Easy things become protracted, the inevitable is dragged out as long as possible to the point of frustration and sometimes shouting and name-calling, and one can only assume that tears can't be too far away.

The league is apparently intent on approaching these negotiations as it did those for the new collective bargaining agreement. As if to further illustrate the extent to which this league's owners live in a mystical fantasy land, there's this from the above-linked Globe and Mail piece by Dave Shoalts:

"On the owners’ side, the major reason some of them have never been keen about participating in the Olympics is they shut down their league for free but they don’t think they get the marketing bump the NHL was looking for when it originally signed up for the Olympics in 1998."

Average payroll in the league was just north of $29.7 million in 1998-99, the first full season after the Nagano games, only first-year expansion team Nashville was below $20 million. They have since exploded to almost double that, and with them, owners have received a far larger piece of the pie.

The NHL has, it must be said by anyone who's not a proven idiot, become almost inexplicably more popular than it was in 1998. That is, it has done so despite the league's best efforts to drive all the fans away with everything short of wielding a pointy stick menacingly outside the front of every rink in the league. Two lockouts since then, right? Putting itself on a network almost literally no one in America had on their cable packages, yeah? And yet revenues can't stop growing; $3.3 billion before the lockout, $2.4 billion in just 48 games this time around, without the Winter Classic and All-Star Game and all that other nice stuff.

So of course the owners don't think they're getting much out of this. Just free exposure for their product to however-many millions of people worldwide who wouldn't normally watch hockey unless they were strapped down like Alex DeLarge, and the IOC paying for insurance, and giving them and their families and their guests top-flight amenities in an Olympics expected to be well short of accommodations seen in Vancouver, which were still considered to be shabby.

But other than that? Nothing!

Again, this announcement is coming. It's coming very soon. But it didn't come soon enough for the NHL to save itself a little bit of pie in the face, because that's simply not how business is done.

No matter how accommodating the other side might be trying in vain to be, everything the league wants will be extracted as bloodily as possible. It's done this way if only so that everyone on the league's side can emerge from the meeting room panting, covered in gore, to show just how hard they worked to get everything everyone always knew was coming to them.

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