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NHL: Time To Dump Versus Network!

MJ Kasprzak@BayAreaCheezhedSenior Writer IIOctober 4, 2009

DENVER - OCTOBER 1: Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks controls the puck against the Colorado Avalanche during the game at the Pepsi Center on October 1, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images)

The San Jose Sharks were one of the teams chosen to kick off the 2009-10 NHL season because they are a team with All Star talent that plays exciting end-to-end hockey. So why is it a Sharks community leader is unable to even see the game?

Gary Bettman. His short-sighted decision four-plus years ago to take a little more money from a third-rate network rather than let the league continue to be showcased by the top sports network in the country, ESPN.

At the time, Versus was a fringe network no one could find on their cable or satellite that carried pseudo-sports glorifying cruelty to living things like hunting, fishing, and rodeo, as well as boring sports like cycling. Seems like a perfect match: many Americans would put hockey in one or both categories.

(Before some nutjob takes a shot at me as a pansy or PETA-wacko, I hunted and fished as a child and young adult. For me, it was about putting food on the table).

But I have watched less than a minute of multiple hunting shows because it was all I could stand of the macho enjoyment of killing on display. If you can afford a 30-ott six on which you have affixed the technology of a ten-power scope so you can shoot something you cannot even see with the naked eye, it is not about putting food on your table.

It also does not take stones to kill an unarmed creature who does not even know you are there. Wanna prove how tough you are? Hunt something that fights back with a weapon you can make with your own hands.

So ends my pre-emptive rant.

Bettman told us the network would build around and showcase hockey. How can it be showcasing when no one sees it? At the time, nearly a quarter of the hockey audience did not even have the network available to them.

However, it became more accessible and the network did a pretty good job covering the game. Then it got greedy.

See, Versus is owned by Comcast, the largest cable company in the country, That makes them the chief rival of DirecTV, the largest satellite provider…think that might be influencing their negotiations?

A commissioner of a league lacking for exposure at a time when it is bursting with young talent needing to be showcased would not have made a deal with a company that has such a conflict of interest. ESPN has no such conflict, and could have shown games on ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC. Versus offered only itself and NBC, and has shown it is willing to exacerbate the exposure problem for its own gain.
 
How appropriate that the network Gary Bettman chose shares his short-sighted greed.

So what did I miss? A lackluster effort by the team inexplicably still picked by many to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup even though the talent level has dropped from what they had last season, when they could not win more than two playoff games.

At least Patrick Marleau played well, netting both Sharks goals. Unfortunately, they also gave up two to Wojtek Wolski, plus three other goals. No other Shark scored.

Like much of last season, San Jose outshot their opponent (41-20), leaving one to wonder at the netminding comparison that should have favoured the Sharks heavily. The power play also was not working well (1-6).

However, not having seen the game, I will leave the analysis to those who did.

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