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Hating the NHL - The Bottom Line: The Regular Season Means Nothing

Column by Martin Duke

How do I hate the NHL? Let me count the ways:

1. The regular season means NOTHING.

2. The worst seats at the Fleet Center cost $29. For $29 at Fenway, you can get seats close enough to spit on Roberto Alomar warming up and still get two hot dogs.

3. The Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

4. Real Hockey Fans in Winnipeg losing out to Phoenix.

5. The $65 lower deck seats at the FleetCenter.

6. The regular season means NOTHING.

7. The San Jose Sharks.

8. Sixteen teams in the playoffs. Sixteen! I guarantee the Rangers and Avalanche have nothing to play for by March except for meaningless playoff seedings.

9. Stanley Cup games in June, in places where it doesn't even snow in January (see number 3).

10. The Baseball Hall of Fame is in idyllic Cooperstown, New York. The Basketball Hall of Fame is in the game's birthplace, Springfield, Massachusetts. The Football Hall of Fame is in the classic gridiron city of Canton, Ohio. The Hockey Hall of Fame is in the basement of a shopping mall in Toronto.

11. That annual question: Pay my tuition, or buy hockey tickets?

12. Once you've watched a grueling 82-game schedule, nothing has been decided and you still have six weeks to go.

13. The regular season means NOTHING.

Now that I've had my fun, let me talk about the good things about hockey. The game is exciting, especially in overtime. The game has an outstanding tradition that is, unfortunately, largely ignored by the NHL.

There is subtlety to the game, much like in baseball, that can be lost on the average fan. Perhaps most importantly in this day and age, the league's stars are the most well-behaved bunch of any of the big four sports.

I just wish it was under the control of someone other than Commissioner Gary Bettman.

Speaking of CommissionersŠ

There's no better example of why baseball needs a commissioner now than the whole Roberto Alomar fiasco. The weak leadership shown by Gene Budig and Bud Selig is mind-blowing.

I'm afraid, however, that once there is a basic agreement, the owners will appoint someone they think they can easily control. If somehow he proves to be more independent, the owners will sack him.

When you look at the names that are being considered, they're all public officials I've never heard of. Why not appoint someone who writes about the game regularly, who obviously personally cares about it, who has a solid grasp of its traditions, and who has demonstrated a simple wisdom about what needs to be done.

That man is Keith Olbermann, the ESPN SportsCenter anchor. It sounds silly, but imagine him in the role and you'll see what a good idea this is.

TBS = Turner Baseball Stadium?

It was announced last week that Atlanta's Olympic Stadium, future home of the Braves, will be renamed after team owner (heck, city owner) Ted Turner. The specific name has not been determined.

While it's not surprising that Turner would name something after himself, it is interesting to note that only in the era of 3Com Park and Pro Player Stadium could we be relieved that an owner would do something as traditional as name a park after himself.

And nowŠ for the weekly tirade against baseball's wild card.

Cleveland fans, see what I've been saying? Ninety-nine wins over 161 games, and it means nothing! Even though performance in the regular season was never a barometer of postseason success, at least getting to the playoffs - solely a result of long-haul performance - meant something.

With the added round, the task seems somehow unimpressive. Now, no matter how many games you win, if you run into a streaky wild-card team, the season is a failure.

In spite of all this, the World Series possibilities we are presented with are tantalizing. How about Yankees­Braves, who haven't met since the 1958 series?

Yankees­Cardinals, last seen when Bob Gibson shut them down in 1964?

Orioles­Braves, the best pitching staff in decades versus the greatest home run-hitting team of all time?

Now think about how less special these matchups would be if we'd already seen these teams play this season in an insignificant series to boost ratings by a few percent.

Interleague play stinks. Here's hoping it dies before it is born.