Post-Games return hasn't been kind to NHL

March, 15, 2010

So, you're the NHL. Your sport just had the most watched hockey game in three decades in the United States.

You follow up that golden Olympic Sunday on Feb. 28 with an opening fortnight in March that would make the world's best PR person want to run for the hills.

To recap:

• March 7: Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke levels Boston star Marc Savard with a devastating hit, reigniting the talk of head shots, etc. The hit just happens to occur on the eve of the NHL's GM meetings where head shots are the headlining topic.

• March 8: One member of the Boston Bruins broadcast media calls for the Bruins to exact revenge on Sidney Crosby, not Matt Cooke, in the March rematch with Pittsburgh.

• March 10: On the same day it announces new measures to help curb head shots at the conclusion of its GMs meetings in Florida, the NHL also announces it will not suspend Cooke. While I understand, purely from a technical point of view, Colin Campbell's explanation for no suspension (Cooke's hit is currently legal by the rule book), the optics are brutal. If I was the NHL disciplinarian (and I feel for Campbell because it's a no-win situation), I would have found a way to suspend Cooke based on attempt to injure and his past transgressions.

• Sunday: Alex Ovechkin, the NHL's two-time reigning Hart Trophy winner, pushes Brian Campbell from behind into the boards and is ejected from a nationally televised game. The Blackhawks defenseman could be out for the season. It tarnishes what otherwise was a great game between two Stanley Cup contenders; Washington erased a three-goal deficit, without Ovechkin, to win it.

• Sunday: Steve Downie takes down Sidney Crosby with a brutal play, and the Pittsburgh Penguins superstar bends backwards awkwardly. After an initial scare, Crosby is OK.

• Today: Ovechkin, already suspended once this season, has a hearing with Colin Campbell. It doesn't matter what the ruling is; there will be cries from one camp if the Caps superstar is suspended for a play that paled in comparison to what Cooke did to Savard. If Ovechkin escapes suspension, there will be criticism the league got swayed by the name on the back of the jersey. It's a lose-lose proposition for the NHL.

Now, let's look forward.

• Tuesday: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly go to Phoenix to try to salvage the Ice Edge bid for the Coyotes. If the bid falls apart, relocation can't be ignored as a possibility, and here we go again. Oh, by the way, the Coyotes are the on-ice story of the season.

• Thursday: The Penguins are in Boston for the first rematch since Cooke's hit on Savard. Colin Campbell is scheduled to be on hand. It is hoped there won't be a repeat of the Todd Bertuzzi/Steve Moore incident six years ago that still haunts the NHL today.

But other than that, everything else is great.

No, seriously, with the quality of the games right now, the playoff races and highlight-reel goals, the NHL has a darn good product on the ice.

It's a shame we don't have more time to write about it.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer




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