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Volume 24 No. 156

Leagues and Governing Bodies

An NHLPA vote on whether or not to approve the league's latest realignment proposal is "50-50 at the moment," but the NHL "will push hard to get it through as is," according to Darren Dreger of TSN. Players "don't like [the] playoff imbalance" that would happen under the new plan, and believe the "easiest fix is to leave either" the Blue Jackets or Red Wings in the West. The NHLPA "hasn't completed full player rep review" (, 2/28). Senators President Cyril Leeder on Thursday said that the new divisional playoff format "would help 'foster more rivalries' between the Senators and other teams not named Toronto." He said, "We’ve been in the league 20 years and we haven’t played Montreal or Boston in the playoffs. Whether you’re playing Detroit, Montreal, Toronto or Boston … we’d like to see more of that" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 3/1). Blue Jackets President Mike Priest on Wednesday said the team would "fully support" the proposal, which would move the club to the East. Priest said, "From a Blue Jackets perspective, playing the majority of our games in the Eastern time zone would be beneficial from a travel perspective ... and (for) our television and radio broadcasts" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 2/28). Devils RW Ilya Kovalchuk said, "Overall, with 16 teams on our side and 14 teams over there, I don't think that's how it should be. And then those wild cards and all that. I don't think it makes too much sense. Hockey should stay hockey. It doesn't have to be football" (, 2/28).

WHAT'S LACKING: YAHOO SPORTS' Nicholas Cotsonika wrote the NHL's new proposal "did not fix a key problem the NHLPA had with the initial proposal" made in December '11. The league "just changed the look of it." The NHLPA "did not consent largely because the odds of making the playoffs were imbalanced." In an "eight-team conference, 50 percent would make it." In a "seven-team conference, 57 percent would make it." Red Wings D and player rep Niklas Kronwall said, "Everyone should have an equal chance of making the playoffs, and it’s tough when you have (conferences) with eight teams compared to (conferences) with seven teams. Mathematically, to me, that would be unfair." Cotsonika asked, "If the NHLPA would not consent to the initial proposal, why would it consent to this one? Just because it was consulted first, when it wasn’t last time?" (, 2/28). But in Toronto, Dan Bilicki wrote the proposal "makes all the sense in the world." It makes "so much sense that you have to figure that a guy like" NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman or NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr would "blow it up out of spite." The real area where the NHL is "screwing this up is one that is probably an oversight to many: The division names." The league needs to "get back to its roots of naming divisions after the great men of the game of ice hockey" (, 2/27).

NOW IS NOT THE TIME:'s Brian Cazeneuve noted the "most likely cities" to receive an NHL expansion team, "despite some interest from Seattle -- which may have been hurt by the Oilers' new arena deal" -- are all in the East. That may "require an Eastern club or two to shift again if the league expands or moves teams into new markets" (, 2/27).'s Brian Stubits wrote there is "no perfect solution" to realignment, and that is "precisely why I don't understand why the NHL is doing this now." The overhaul seems "premature and unnecessary," not to mention "tough to do right." The league "doesn't want the Coyotes to move out of Phoenix." Stubits: "Why, as long as the potential for them to be moved to Quebec City or somewhere else exists, would they consider such a massive plan? It seems irresponsible" (, 2/27).

The NHL has "become a landmine," with star players "down everywhere" due to concussions, according to Wayne Scanlan of the OTTAWA CITIZEN. There are "anywhere from 10 to 18 depending on the injury list consulted, and that doesn’t include the 'undisclosed' injury cases." Injuries were "expected to be a factor" in the condensed 48-game schedule, "but the recent epidemic is startling nonetheless." Scanlan asks, "Where is the game plan to educate players and reduce injuries, especially head injuries?" While the NFL has "taken dramatic steps to protect its star players ... the NHL spends more time playing with its crayons, doodling divisional alignment scenarios." Scanlan: "Remember when the NHL enforced the 'quiet room' strategy for suspected concussion victims?" It "didn’t last long," and now it is "up to the training staff and coaches of individual teams to ensure players with head injuries don’t return to action immediately." Some NHLers "believe the time has come to take a comprehensive look at protecting players" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 3/1). In N.Y., Jeff Klein noted at least 11 players in the past two weeks are “believed to have sustained” concussions, including Penguins C Evgeni Malkin, “thrusting the issue of head injuries back into the spotlight.” Many of the recent injuries, including Malkin’s, “were not caused by hits deemed worthy of fines or suspensions.” The CBC estimates that 90 players last season “missed games because of concussions," representing about 13% of NHL players "on active rosters on a given night” (N.Y. TIMES, 2/27).

SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE: THE HOCKEY NEWS' Adam Proteau wrote, "Despite the NHL’s efforts to address what has become an alarming issue in many sports, there’s still far more the league can do to mitigate the unacceptable number of head injuries we’re seeing." Proteau: "I no longer think that a complete headshot ban could work at the NHL level." But there are "practical, very doable ways for the NHL to go further than it has in protecting players to this point." The first is "mandatory sit-out periods for concussed players." The second is for "independent doctors to examine players." The last thing fans should want to see is the "rash of deeply troubled retired athletes like we're currently seeing with former NFL players" (, 2/28). Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Andrew Gross asked, “Should concussions be a public matter?” All concussions in the NHL “are reported internally,” but teams are “no longer required to specify injuries to the media, beyond reporting a player is out.” Yet it "just seems intuitive the more public knowledge there is of a problem, the more pressure can be exerted externally to help promote player safety” (Bergen RECORD, 2/26).

It was "impossible to avoid conflating" MLS' "unprecedented marketing push" with the offseason departure of former Galaxy MF David Beckham, according to Brian Straus of SPORTING NEWS. While Beckham "lifted soccer's profile" in the U.S. and Canada, MLS "remains a niche product." MLS teams "matter in their local markets," but TV ratings ... remain poor." Getting a fan in K.C. to buy a ticket to a game at Sporting Park "is one thing," but getting that fan to watch a FC Dallas-Earthquakes on a Saturday "is another." Meanwhile, for MLS players "who aren't on billboards, Q ratings are low." Most of the players being "marketed in Manhattan by MLS are relative unknowns." Earthquakes F and reigning MLS MVP Chris Wondolowski "was one of them," and he likely could "walk unnoticed through most American sports bars." But MLS "hasn't withered or withdrawn." Instead, it is "trying to step up its game with the 'March,' an ambitious campaign that sends a clear signal." MLS CMO Howard Handler said, "Most people agree that David was a catalyst. ... But he was part of a constellation of stars and the big developments in our league as he was moving on." Straus wrote there is "no more Beckham smart bomb, so now the attack plan must vary." The league's "March To Soccer" marketing campaign is a "multi-event, multi-platform initiative designed to highlight the MLS stadium experience, the athletes and the league's embrace of technology." There "are no obvious hooks this season -- no celebrity players and no new teams or stadiums" for the first time since '04. Meanwhile, MLS' TV rights deals "expire at the end" of next season. Whether MLS Commissioner Don Garber reaches his goal of the league reaching elite status by '22 "might depend significantly" on upcoming TV rights fees (, 2/28).