SUN Hockey Pool

Sun shines on the NHL

JORDAN HEATH-RAWLINGS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

Somewhere sunny, this summer, Gary Bettman is working hard to wipe a smug smile off his face.

Not because his revamped NHL, featuring a salary cap that keeps climbing, is an extraordinary success. After all, the biggest free agents went to the teams in the biggest markets, and smaller cities still found it difficult to attract decent talent.

Not because his league is growing in the right places. Bettman spent the summer working to keep the Nashville Predators in a market that doesn't necessarily embrace them and drew heavy fire from Canadians for his perceived part in scuttling a deal that may have brought the team to Southern Ontario.

No, Bettman is smiling somewhere, because he's trying to decide between two slogans for the upcoming NHL season.

It's either "Hockey: All we do is get a little rowdy at bachelor parties" or "The NHL: At least we're not cheaters and criminals."

The biggest scandal the NHL has endured this offseason -- aside from the uncertain Predators situation -- is the epic tale of underage drinking and loud music that was Hurricanes star Eric Staal's bachelor party. Word came down Wednesday that both Eric and his brother, Penguins centre Jordan Staal, will receive US$587 fines for disorderly conduct. Jordan Staal, 18, will pay an additional US$150 fine for underage drinking.

Meanwhile, hockey's competitors for American eyeballs and dollars are all staring down the proverbial shotgun muzzle.

Major League Baseball just saw its most hallowed record smashed by a man who could face indictment this fall over a steroid scandal that has tainted the last decade of play.

The National Football League is dealing with two miscreants, one (Michael Vick) has already pleaded not guilty to federal charges of organized dogfighting and another (Pacman Jones) has been arrested six times in two years and may or may not have had a role in a strip club fight that left a man paralyzed.

Meanwhile, the National Basketball Association has managed to keep its players out of trouble, but is dealing with fallout from a scandal involving a referee who allegedly helped to shave points off the scores of games to bring teams above or below the point spread.

Hockey has its own problems. They are myriad, and pointing out the struggles of other leagues does nothing to alleviate them. At the very least, however, Bettman, his staff and owners around the league can take pride in the fact that, in a summer of sporting scandals, the worst thing associated with hockey is a couple of Canadian kids, too much beer and a little beligerence.

That's not so bad, in the grand scheme of things.


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