Author Archives: washdz

The Little League that Could, but Probably Won’t

It took 113 days of bitterness, mistrust, recrimination and name calling, but as in many a bad marriage, the NHL and its players kissed and made up yesterday, reaching a tentative agreement that appears to have ended the lockout and rescued the 2012/13 NHL season.

Had this weekend’s marathon negotiation failed to resolve the sides’ differences, hockey fans faced the likelihood of losing an entire season to CBA brinksmanship for the second time in eight years. Amazingly, rabidly loyal fans had continued to stream through the gates even after the catastrophe of 04/05. League revenues last year reached a record $3.3 billion. Still, the league clearly had a long way to go even before this year’s lockout. The recently inked 10 year TV deal with NBC pays a paltry $200 million per year. Compare this with the NBA’s current deal, set to expire in 2016, which is worth $930 million annually. But NHL owners don’t seem to mind because they rely on gate receipts (i.e., fan loyalty) for nearly half their yearly take.

How is it, you ask, that a league so dependent on its fans caring enough to show up, and with so much market share yet to gain, could come so near the brink of fan-alienating disaster? The short answer, friends, is that Garry Bettman and his band of merry pranksters run an entire league that comes up small; that’s small as in petty, myopic, and head-scratchingly obtuse; small with a lower-case s. Yes, they’ve put it all behind them for the next decade, but this is still the league that allowed Fox to superimpose comet trails on live action.foxtrax8xo

So let’s not waste anyone’s time dissecting the new agreement or rehashing the agonizing negotiations that produced it. And we certainly won’t pat anyone in the league office on the back. Instead, what better way to celebrate the imminent start of the NHL season than by taking a quick look at some even less successful pro leagues. Congratulations, Gary Bettman, you’ve come up bigger, than these guys:

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Caps Crushing Fans’ Hopes in March Instead of April

I’ve been a Washington Capitals fan since 1986. As such, I’m ready, with the coming of every spring, to have my obssession rewarded with a soul-crushing exit from the playoffs. This after all is a team that in 21 postseasons has reached the Stanley Cup finals exactly once (it didn’t go well) but blown a two-game series lead seven times (five times to the Penguins, three times up three games to one). This year though (perhaps pushing back against Punxsutawney Phil’s call for more winter), the Caps seem determined make their fans an early gift of springtime disappointment. They might not make the playoffs at all. This with a roster that was supposed to be deeper and more talented than the one that finished first in the East two seasons in a row. (And won their first seven games this year.)

Yes, they were without puck-moving defenseman Mike Green for most of the season. And, they’ve been without top center Nick Backstrom since a little Canadian rat named Rene Bourque elbowed him in the head back in January. (It’s telling that Backstrom, the team leader in points when he was concussed, held that honor for several weeks hence.) But neither injury can fully account for this cavalcade of ineptitude. Caps hockey this season has featured, in different combinations and sometimes all at once, mediocre goaltending, porous defense, an inability to score, miserable special teams play, and severe mental fragility. Again, this is largely the same team that lead its conference twice in two years, was fourth in the league defensively last year and first in offense by miles the year before that. (If you follow hockey at all, you know there should be grapefruit-size asterisks next to those plaudits; but we’re not getting into that now.)

Still, for a few more games at least, these crappy Caps are on the playoff bubble. They’re two points from the eighth and last playoff spot and only four out of first in the horrific Southleast. So they could, theoretically wind up not only in the playoffs but as a No. 3 seed with home ice in the first round (spoils awarded to even the crappiest of division winners). Such are the fantasies that cloud the minds of fans.

To wit, the Caps began last week with a should-win contest against the lowly New York Islanders. A lackluster effort found the boys in red down 2-0 in the game’s waning minutes. Winning, and not dropping another two points to the Southeast-leading Panthers, required a spectacular, improbable effort. And that’s what the Caps gave, tying the game in the last 20 seconds and then finishing off the hapless Isles in OT with a scorching wrist shot from underachieving $9 mil/year captain Alex Ovechkin. How would the team respond? Would this minor miracle spark a dramatic return to form in the last month of the season, just in time for the playoffs? I allowed myself to consider that possibility for the three days until the next game, which the Caps lost 5-0 to New Jersey. Then they dropped two more, including Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the basement-dwelling Carolina Hurricanes. They’re back at it tonight, facing a surging Tampa Bay Lightning, who with a win, could relegate the Caps to fourth place in what is probably the NHL’s worst division. I’ll be watching, because I’m a masochist.