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NHL's lost season little more than an afterthought

February 20, 2005|by MARK KELLER

It seems nearly every member of the 2005 Boston Red Sox has taken a verbal swipe at the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez in recent days, yet the start of Major League Baseball's regular season is still weeks away.

How's that for preseason hype?

Meanwhile, several NASCAR Nextel Cup drivers have already lashed out at fellow driver Kevin Harvick for causing an accident Thursday in one of the qualifying races for today's Daytona 500, the first race of the NASCAR season.

How's that for causing a commotion?

These types of conflicts, fueled by the ever-present broadcast media at spring training sites and in the NASCAR pit area, are played up for all they are worth, creating excitement for all fans of those sports.

Such excitement is a far cry from what the National Hockey League is experiencing right now. The league is suffering through its darkest hours following the cancellation of the 2004-05 season Wednesday after a long lockout by team owners.

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ESPN, the hockey league's primary broadcast partner, is already looking for programming to fill the void left by the NHL, perhaps permanently.

Even the news Saturday that an agreement is in the works failed to register much of a blip on the sports world radar. There are too many other stories to grab the attention of the sports fan right now. Stories like Jose Canseco, Tedy Bruschi, the start of spring training, the Daytona 500 ... even the NBA All-Star Game, for goodness sakes.

The NHL and the NHL Players Association each made horrible mistakes while negotiating - or mostly failing to negotiate - a new labor agreement. Neither side seemed to have compromise on their minds. Neither seemed willing to give up much of anything until the final hour.

Even if an agreement is reached this weekend and the league does somehow put together an abbreviated season, it won't make a difference. Unlike MLB, the NFL and the NBA, the NHL was a failing league when its labor dispute came about.

Attendance was down in many cities. Teams had trouble filling arenas to half capacity, let alone selling them out. TV viewership on a national level was almost nonexistent.

That's probably not the best time for a league to take a year off.

People missed baseball, football and basketball when those sports went through labor disputes. And if NASCAR ever experienced a similar occurrence ... well, you've heard the phrase "the South will rise again," right?

The NHL, however, is going out with a whimper. To the casual sports fan, it'll be missed about as much as the XFL.




Mark Keller is sports editor of The Herald-Mail. His column appears every Sunday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2332, or by e-mail at keller@herald-mail.com

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