SUN Hockey Pool

Will NHL and NBC renew vows?

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

With the Super Bowl show now in the archives, NBC is free to switch its sporting attention elsewhere.

There never will be big-ticket announcers such as John Madden and Al Michaels and audiences measured in the hundreds of millions. And much of the U.S. south will blink its eyes with indifference.

But the success (or failure) of hockey on NBC over the next few weeks could lead to a breakthrough for the National Hockey League, which could use a boost in revenue.

The U.S. network is in the final year of its two-year deal with the NHL and actually is riding some momentum.

The Winter Classic between Detroit and Chicago on New Year's Day drew an audience of 4.4. million Americans, the most-viewed NHL regular-season game in 34 years.

If the league can build on that, could it possibly command a deal with any of the big four networks that brings in significant revenue?

The NHL's senior vice-president for broadcasting, John Shannon, told Sun Media this week that talks won't heat up on renewing the deal until after the Super Bowl hangover subsides. That also will give both NHL and NBC executives a chance to see how the next few weeks draw, beginning with Saturday's Stanley Cup final rematch between Pittsburgh and Detroit.

NBC certainly has room in its schedule in the dead zone on the calendar for sports programming. While CBS loads up on college basketball, ABC has the NBA and Fox gets fat on NASCAR, NBC has little right now.

Sources say the NHL currently makes roughly $10 million US per season in its revenue-sharing arrangement with the network. That's a 10th of the take from Canadian networks, a gap the league would like to see narrow.

PUCK PROPOSITIONS

In their never-ending pursuit of separating gamblers from their wallets, Las Vegas casinos had several proposition bets on last night's Super Bowl tied into NHL games. Here are three good ones:

- Total sacks in the Super Bowl plus 1.5 versus Alexander Ovechkin shots on goal.

- Steelers and Cardinals first-quarter points minus 2.5 vs. total goals in the Bruins-Canadiens game.

- Steelers and Cardinals punts vs. total goals by three Canadian teams in action (Sens, Habs and Oilers.)

NET PROFITS

Oh, to be the Boston Bruins with possibly three big-league goaltenders on the roster, all of whom have earned a shutout this season.

The latest success story is enough to make Maple Leafs fans gag, however. When Tuukka Rask blanked the Rangers 1-0 on Saturday, he joined Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez in what is now an impressive trio in the Bruins' cage.

"Give the kid credit," Boston's Marc Savard said of Rask, who stopped 35 shots for his first NHL shutout while replacing the injured Fernandez. "He has been waiting for his opportunity and he took advantage of it. He's an NHL goaltender, we all know that."

Apparently the Leafs didn't. After selecting Rask in the first round (21st overall) in 2005, he was dealt to the Bruins in 2006 for Andrew Raycroft.

The Leafs figured Raycroft would be the goalie of the present and its 2004 draftee, Justin Pogge, the goalie of the future. We all know how that worked out.

STIRRING THE POT

The annual Beanpot college tournament gets under way today in Boston and is expected to attract more than normal interest from NHL execs.

Perhaps the hottest property is Boston University defenceman Matt Gilroy, an undrafted free agent who has general managers, including the Leafs' Brian Burke, salivating.

An all-American each of the past two seasons, Gilroy is a late-bloomer, the big reason he has gone undrafted. While he will have plenty of suitors, Burke already has spent time with the 24-year-old Long Island native.

Gilroy turned down several offers last year to return to the Terriers to earn his degree.

AROUND THE RINKS

The reigning Stanley Cup finalists are hardly tearing it up. The Penguins have lost two in a row while the Wings are on a five-game slide. "We have to finish games off," Pens captain Sidney Crosby said after Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Leafs. ... How low can Mats go? With a 6-on-4 in a last-minute bid to tie the Wild on Saturday night, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault pinned Mats Sundin to the bench. "Mats is working, but he needs to find a way to play better," Vigneault said. "We went with our best four forwards. It was a no-brainer." ... Proving it's never to early to start the hype, TSN has its first NHL trade deadline show on Wednesday, a month before the deadline ... So it's not for everybody, but that scrap between Boston's Shawn Thornton and Montreal's Alex Henry, a recent callup from the Hamilton Bulldogs, was a nice tilt on the Super Bowl undercard.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Forget UFC champ Georges St. Pierre, all eyes will be on the Battle of the Belarusians next Saturday at the Bell Centre in Montreal. When the Leafs previously visited Quebec, former Hab and current Toronto forward Mikhail Grabovski went postal trying to get at Sergei Kostitsyn. Problem was Grabovski hit linesman Scott Cherrey and landed a three-game suspension. Afterwards, Kostitsyn said he'd be ready for the rematch.


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