NHL Setup Pretty Much Foolproof

Article excerpt

Fortunately for Rocky Wirtz, the cap on the bottle of stupid pills sitting atop his United Center desk is owner-proof.

The Blackhawks' chairman couldn't swallow a bunch even if he wanted to, and odds are that in lucid moments he doesn't want to.

Oh, sure, Wirtz would love to announce today that not only Antti Niemi will remain a Hawk but Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd and Brent Sopel are returning.

Ain't happening, of course. Niemi still might be the Hawks' goaltender next season, but the band that won last season's Stanley Cup never will be intact again.

That must irk Wirtz until he thinks about what The Washington Post quoted Ted Leonsis as saying back in May.

Leonsis has owned the NHL's Washington Capitals for more than a decade and the NBA's Washington Wizards for less than two months.

The Post story about Leonsis was topped by this headline: "NHL is stronger financially than NBA."

The first reaction was, "Then why did you buy the Wiz?" The second was, "Whoa, big fella," isn't basketball entrenched in this country, while hockey still is trying to find its way?

Popularity has nothing to do with it. We're talking business here, and Leonsis believes that right now the NHL is a better business than the NBA.

And that would be, well, why?

Because, as Leonsis put it, the NHL "has a (collective-bargaining agreement) in place that protects owners from taking stupid pills."

Hockey endured a painful work stoppage in the middle of the last decade that nearly wiped the NHL from the face of the planet.

Instead, the NHL emerged with an economic structure that at least gives it a chance to

return to the mainstream. …