Dear NBC and NHL:
I’ll begin with a simple question. Do either of you actually like hockey?
I think I can answer for NBC (a.k.a. “Nothing But Conan”), because it is clear the network would rather break out in a deadly skin rash than show the Stanley Cup finals on a weeknight.
Honestly, NBC (a.k.a. “Not Bleepin’ Canadians!”) treats this sport like an ugly cousin it has to take to the prom. There are shotgun marriages that have more love. NBC doesn’t even pay the NHL to broadcast its games. In fact, the NHL has to wait until NBC has recouped its production costs before getting a penny (and has to help sell the advertising, which is a bit like having to bake the Girl Scout cookies, then buy and eat them, too).
And this includes the championship round!
Which now begins Saturday night – a fast three days after the Red Wings won the Western Conference finals – with Games 1 and 2 a mere 24 hours apart, thus wiping out much of the home-ice advantage the Wings fought so hard to earn during the regular season.
Or at least that’s the news as I write this. Until a few days ago, we all thought the finals were starting June 5. Then, suddenly, a new schedule – as if they’re arranging a play date during flu season.
Imagine if the NFL worked this way?
“You going to the Super Bowl?”
“Not sure. When is it?”
“Maybe Sunday. Maybe Wednesday.”
“I dunno. Who else is going?”
Hey, this isn’t a pizza party, guys. It’s the Stanley Cup finals. It’s the biggest stage for the greatest sport in the world – at least to hockey lovers.
Which we in Detroit are.
And which TV – in New York and L.A. – is not.
Expected to work overtime
But that’s no reason to punish the players. During the postgame media sessions after Detroit eliminated Chicago, coach Mike Babcock and several Wings seemed bewildered at the timing of the finals.
“Normally, when you win in five games, you get this little break – normally,” Babcock said. “I don’t know if we’re making up for lost time Â or whatever we’re doing. They don’t ask me these questions.”
Of course not. Players and coaches should just shut up and do as they’re told – even though they ARE the sport. So the Wings, despite their captain Nicklas Lidstrom and superstar Pavel Datsyuk ailing with injuries, have to suck it up and be ready for Saturday night and then – bang! – Sunday night because NBC likely doesn’t want to use a weeknight and run the risk of an overtime game that – heaven forbid! – might cut into Conan O’Brien’s debut week on “The Tonight Show.”
This way, by broadcasting Games 1 and 2 this weekend and Game 5 next Saturday – Games 3 and 4 are on Versus – NBC (a.k.a. “Never Been Checked”) won’t even use up a weeknight.
And it can pray this ends before a Game 6.
Better than a monologue
Of course, NBC always could do what it did a few years ago during a conference finals game – just dump the overtime onto a cable channel, which it did to Buffalo and Ottawa. The reason? It had commitments to show the Preakness two-hour prerace coverage.
Listen, Gary Bettman, when your league counts less than horses warming up, you better wonder about the relationship.
Here’s a question: Do you think if Sidney Crosby were nursing an injury, they would rush into these finals? Don’t expect an honest answer.
Hey, I understand ratings, star power, advertising, revenue sharing. I just don’t think they should dictate something as important as the Stanley Cup finals. Years from now, when nobody remembers what TV show was on what network, the results of this series will be in the books, part of hockey lore. That should matter. That should be protected.
But Bettman, desperate for league credibility, will do whatever the networks want – even though they would laugh him out of the office if he actually asked for, you know, money in exchange one of the greatest traditions in the history of sports.
As Wings forward Marian Hossa said, “You get the Stanley Cup finals once a year. Why do you rush it? What if the first game goes to three or four overtimes? Then we have to start again the next night? I don’t think that’s smart.”
Smart exits when you’re begging for coverage. But protecting the game and its history should not. Maybe one day, this league and a network actually will find each other attractive. Till then, it’s four games in six days, and lots of black coffee.
Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).