Fans shortchanged on NHL playoff fun

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:55 AM ET

This is the time of year when the fan wants to celebrate his sport and to bask in the greater glory of the game.

But that’s just not possible this year during the ultimate time to celebrate hockey; the normally fabulous fun of the roller-coaster ride that is the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The most important part of any professional sport is the fan, but everybody involved keeps forgetting them. There are so many examples it has become overwhelming, and on Tuesday a whole bunch of them came into play at once.

Let’s start with Rule 48. And Versus.

The two toughest things to find in hockey are a game on Versus and any evidence of this Rule 48, before it was brought out to save serial charger Raffi Torres from suspension.

It hasn’t been easy for fans in the U.S. since the NHL left ESPN for dollars instead of sense. Any hockey fan who travels south of the border will tell you it is virtually impossible to find Versus in a hotel room. The network does excellent work delivering the product but it just doesn’t deliver homes.

The NHL announced that while ESPN was involved in the bidding, the league once again decided to go for the money instead of the audience, position and credibility built into ESPN, and Tuesday announced a $200-million-a-year deal for 10 years with NBC and Versus.

On one hand, that’s a lot of money. That works out to $6.6 million per team per year. On the other hand, that’s exactly what Calgary’s Jay Bouwmeester will be paid this coming season and not even close to Ottawa’s Jason Spezza, and his $8 million.

It would be one thing if the money reduced the price of the tickets but it never works that way. The caps will go up. The owners and players will get their share. But the fan won’t get a break. And the deal won’t bring new fans into the empty seats in many U.S. buildings.

Versus even affects taxpayers in Edmonton and Toronto. Your dollars support the Toronto and Edmonton Indy auto races. You get your money’s worth and much more when the major network (ABC) shows the race in the U.S. Not so much when it’s on Versus, as will be the case for both the Toronto and Edmonton races this year.

Then there’s Rule 48 and the NHL’s headshot justice, which has gone back to being an unmitigated mess in the past 48 hours and made the league a laughingstock yet again.

Fans want to be proud of the sport they’re passionate about. And they don’t want the sports pages, sportscasts and sports talk shows, or any of the news media reaction from people they follow on places like Twitter, talking about concussions and suspensions to the point where nobody is writing or talking about the games.

Reporters who covered the meetings in Florida, where the NHL decided to take a much tougher stand on violence directed at the head (and received nothing but positive reviews on earlier four-game suspensions to Torres and Matt Cooke) have no recollection of any mention of a behind-the-net, OK-to-headhunt “Hit Zone.”

The fans got blindsided by it, just as Brent Seabrook was blindsided by Raffi Torres.

No suspension.

Only a few hours later Steve Downie (who in 2007 received a 20-game suspension for a similar act involving Dean McAmmond) and Chris Kunitz both clearly went after opponents’ heads.

The “justice” came don swift and soft.

One game each!

Instant tweet, Larry Brooks, New York Post: “Another step backward for NHL in one-game sentence to Kunitz. But again, if league doesn’t care, if players don’t care, why should we?”

Meanwhile no word is heard from Torres, who blew off the media (and by extension the fans) again Tuesday.

Instant tweet Mark Spector, Sportsnet: “The courageous Raffi Torres does not talk to media. Maybe if we had our heads down, or had our notepads in our feet, he’d deal with us.”

The joy and the glory of the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs is gone.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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