Crazy times in the NHL

BILL LANKHOF -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

Gary Bettman has announced a two-year deal worth $135 million US with the Outdoor Life Network to show NHL games.

This seems to be a perfect fit for a network whose lineup includes croc wrestling, bass fishing and hunting beloved woodland creatures with big, soft eyes. You know, since folks in the U.S. consider hockey players to be animals anyway.

For Bettman, the good news is that the channel reaches 64 million households in the U.S. The bad news is all of them believe frozen water is just a waste of a good fishing hole.

How good is this deal for the NHL? Well, instead of being ignored by 89 million households on ESPN, it now will only be a turnoff in 63 million American living rooms.

If your name is Bettman, this is called progress.

FOOLISH PLEASURES

The Phoenix Suns Gorilla, the Phillie Phanatic and the San Diego Chicken were inducted into the inaugural class of the Mascot Hall of Fame this week in Philadelphia.

To qualify for consideration, a mascot must have been around for at least 10 years and not be named Carlton or BJ Birdie.

PERENNIAL PROSPECT

The Leafs have signed Jean-Sebastien Aubin to be Ed Belfour's backup.

This should not be considered a slam at Mikael Tellqvist. The Leafs said years ago the guy was a can't-miss prospect and would be playing in Toronto some day. And, the Maple Leafs never break a promise -- even if it meant moving the entire American Hockey League franchise here. I guess.

PITTSBURGH OR BUST

Sidney Crosby hasn't just invigorated a hockey franchise, he has reawakened an entire city. Pittsburgh is talking proud. The city's visitors' bureau is putting together a media junket to show itself off.

It's Sept. 15-16, or about a week before Pittsburgh gets snowed in until next June's thaw.

It includes a stop at the Penguins training camp, visits with Sidney and Mario Lemieux, a tour of Heinz Field, home of the Steelers, dinner at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum and a tour of the city.

To be honest, Pittsburgh often gets a bad rap. It is a lost jewel on the American urban landscape, tucked in the mountainside and full of history and a diverse culture. Even those smoke stacks from the steel plants aren't stinking out the joint anymore.

Too bad they can't say the same thing about the Pirates. Still, let's not quibble.

A year ago, making a career move to Pittsburgh was like moving to the senior citizen's home: Pretty, but nobody gets out alive. Then the NHL gets a salary cap, the Penguins get Crosby and suddenly it's Happy Valley.

Next thing you know they'll be telling us Steelers coach Bill Cowher can crack a smile without spraining a face muscle.

BAD TO THE BONE

Boxer Evander Holyfield has been banned from competing in New York by the state's athletic commission, citing the fighter's "diminished skills and poor performance."

This seems a bit unfair. After all, if diminished skills were the guideline, the state should've taken the puck away from the Rangers before they hurt themselves with it years ago.

PAPER TIGERS

Bob Hille, The Sporting News, on Reebok listing Dan Marino's No. 13 as the top-selling jersey in its Gridiron Classic line: "It seems as if everywhere you look in South Florida you see a Marino replica. Well, except under centre at Dolphins camp."

ESPN will make a stop in Louisiana on Aug. 28, to report on the participants in the 37th annual Duck and Goose Calling Contest. Or, adds Dwight Perry, Seattle Times, "as duck-hunting widows lovingly refer to their absentee husbands, quack addicts."

BITS 'N' BITES

Team Canada this week got new form-fitting hockey uniforms. The players complained they fit too snugly. It made them look a bit like ballet dancers in tights, but with the bumps in all the wrong places. Todd Bertuzzi joked that he couldn't get his sweater over his belly button, judging from all the red faces at Nike headquarters, it seems they might be a tad tight around the collars, too ... Raiders' Randy Moss told HBO's Bryant Gumbell that he smokes marijuana. But, then, a lot of folks suspected that he would turn out to be the Raiders' corner stoner ... In other NFL news, the Eagles' Terrell Owens has returned to practice after having recovered from a recurring swelled head.

SMART 'N' SASSY

"I will just put four or five extra packs of cigarettes in my bag, and I will be fine." -- Golfer John Daly on being forced to play 36 holes on the final day of the rain-delayed Deutsche Bank Championship.


Videos

Photos