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Wednesday, July 13, 2005
NHL bungles big news

By Scott Burnside
Special to ESPN.com

That's it?

The NHL and its players spent 301 long, bloody, locked-out days hammering out a new collective bargaining agreement, driving the game to the brink of irrelevance in the process. Then they reach a tentative deal the day after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, one of the only dead days on the North American sporting schedule, a day in which they would be ensured of top billing in newspapers and sportscasts across America, and all the league can come up with is a 10-line press release? And trust us, some of those lines were short. The players' association was even more succinct, sending out a six-line missive.

Yes there's a tentative deal. We'll get back to you in about a week when we ratify. Until then, get lost.

"The operative word is tentative," explained Bernadette Mansur, vice president of communications for the league, when asked about the strategy for announcing the new deal. "Why would we discuss something that is not yet ratified by the PA or the league?"

Fair enough. And had the league not burned itself to the ground in pursuit of said deal, we might be more inclined to agree. But it did.

What's that old saying about only getting one chance to make a first impression? We're pretty sure they didn't mean putting out a press release, then taking a nap. Where are the marketing people who are supposed to be helping the league revive interest in the game?

There are a hundred things the two sides could have done to take advantage of the situation, guaranteeing some good ink on what should have been a historic day.

Canadians are falling all over themselves with excitement at the news. That's a given. In the United States, where 24 of the 30 teams reside, not so much.

Why not tell people what the nuts and bolts of the new agreement will contain? Sure, the two sides are tired. They worked all night and have put in a lot of long hours to complete work that should have been done months ago. Tough.

Wouldn't it have been nice to see at least one human being -- maybe even commissioner Gary Bettman or NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow -- come out of that New York meeting room and wipe the sweat from his brow and throw a morsel of information to the handful of hockey fans still hanging around, especially in the U.S.?

Maybe someone, anyone, could have described the scene in the room when it was over or talked about the process going forward. What's next? When's the draft? Simple stuff.

Think outside the box for once.

We keep hearing about the rule changes and how the game's going to be more vibrant and exciting for fans and sponsors and how the league and its players are going to work together in an unprecedented fashion to see the game grow and prosper. And then, when it comes time to take that first step toward such a goal, the league gets busy with a press release. Hoo ha! What's next? Mailing out the results of the entry draft a week after the fact?

By releasing at least a synopsis of what's in the deal, the league and players would take the guesswork out of it for those media organizations that are still writing about hockey. Stop the speculating and the reliance on sources two or three generations away from the actual bargaining table and provide some tangible details.

The players have a secure Web site. The PA could have released a synopsis on the site so it wouldn't look as though the players were getting their news from TV, which is where most do. Then everyone could have shared in the excitement.

But no, fans are supposed to be content with a hastily scribbled press release and a promise of more later. Gee, seems like the same old, same old.

At this stage, the league motto should be "A Whole New Game -- Next Week."

Scott Burnside is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.