Puck Wads

Hyperbolic hockey, the sport in which NHL commentators try to top each other with more and more outlandish and inaccurate claims, usually builds in intensity alongside the Stanley Cup playoffs. And engaging in pop history—making grand claims for the present at the expense of the past—remains the favorite among hyperbolic hockey tactics.

After the third round of the playoffs, for example, local media types speculated whether the Devils line of Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott, and Petr Sykora might not be the best of all time. Answer: yes, if you ignore Boston’s Kraut Line (of the ’30s and ’40s), Montreal’s Punch Line (’40s-’50s), Detroit’s Production Line (’40s-’50s), the Rangers GAG Line (’60s-’70s), the Islanders Trio Grande (’70s-’80s), L.A.’s Triple Crown Line (’80s), Edmonton’s GretzkyKurriTikkanen line (’80s), and—since this is pop history—Colorado’s Joe Sakic, Alex Tanguay, and Milan Hejduk, who was MIA in the Finals.

On the eve of the Finals’ Game 7, the Post suggested a Devils win would render them “the greatest team since the breakup of the Oilers’ dynasty.” A moot point now, since the Devs failed to repeat, but we still side with our old friend Stan Fischler, whose criteria for dynasty begins with three straight Cup wins, not three in six years.

Then there was Patrick Roy and his record third Conn Smythe Trophy, which has many observers unconditionally anointing him the best playoff goalie of all time. Much was also made of his tying Detroit Hall-of-Famer Terry Sawchuk‘s mark of four Stanley Cups. Setting aside debate whether Roy really deserved the MVP, it should be noted that the award has only been given out since 1965. Furthermore, what about Ken Dryden and his six Cups in eight years in the ’70s, or Jacques Plante‘s five straight in the ’50s, or even Billy Smith‘s four straight in the ’80s? Pat’s great, but it’s crowded at the top.

And in the end, CNN/ asked its users if this mediocre Cup Final was “the best in recent history?” Answer: yes, but only if you are Ray Bourque.

Devils in the Details

We’re used to rampant economic illiteracy among sports journalists by now, but the press coverage that greeted last Wednesday’s announcement of a new Newark arena for the Nets and Devils was more confused than Scott Niedermeyer after a trip to a Tie Domi convention. The deal, which would provide the YankeeNets’ basketball and hockey franchises with a new home by 2005, was variously reported as being funded by:

•  $115 million from YankeeNets, plus $240 million in state, county, and city bonds, to be repaid with “existing payroll taxes on new jobs created in the arena area and by doubling the now-reduced sales tax in the district.” (Richard Wilner, New York Post)

•  $115 million from YankeeNets and $240 million from “taxes on luxury boxes, tickets and merchandise in the new arena, as well as sales taxes in the surrounding area which will be designated as a ‘sports/entertainment district.’ ” (Ralph Vacchiano, Daily News)

•  $115 million from YankeeNets and $240 million in “revenues on sales of luxury boxes, tickets, merchandise and from a doubling of the 3-percent sales tax in a ‘sports and entertainment’ district created in the neighborhood around the arena.” (Steve Zipay, Newsday)

•  $115 million from YankeeNets, plus $30 million from the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, $50 million in county and city bonds (to be paid off with unspecified revenues), and $190 million from sales taxes collected in downtown Newark, where the tax would be raised from 3 percent to 6 percent. (David M. Halbfinger, The New York Times)

The winner: The Times by a hair, over the News. The actual financing package, according to New Jersey gubernatorial aide Tom Wilson: $115 million from YankeeNets, $30 million in transportation money, $190 million from hiked sales taxes in the new Sports Entertainment District, which would encompass most of Newark—including the arena, so it would include sales tax on luxury boxes, tickets, etc., but not the cost of these items themselves, as Zipay mistakenly reported—and $50 million from the city and county, which would come from yet-to-be-determined sources. Of course, the ink-stained wretches did have some excuse: Jersey governor Donald DiFrancesco‘s press release announcing the deal was so convoluted that we couldn’t make out the financing package until we got Wilson on the phone. DiFrancesco also failed to mention that the arena plan still must be voted on by the state legislature—an item only the Times thought worth noting. “You read [the press statement], and you’d think Yogi Berra had written it,” said sports marketing expert David Carter. But at least Yogi knows an arena fight isn’t over until it’s over.

Express Derailed

While the NBA Finals was busy grabbing the nation’s attention and depleting its strategic David-vs.-Goliath cliché reserves, two other hoops conflicts unfolded last Tuesday that may have longer-lasting repercussions. In Memphis, the city council voted 10-3 to approve the first phase of spending on a $250 million basketball arena, all but sealing the fate of the Vancouver Grizzlies as the first NBA team to relocate since the Kings fled Kansas City for Sacramento in 1985. The same day, voters in Charlotte shot down a plan to replace the 16-year-old Charlotte Coliseum with a new publicly funded building, leading to immediate rumors that the Hornets would be headed to Louisville in 2002.

One little-noticed catch in both Memphis’s and Louisville’s proposals, however, could make their new pastures not quite so green. Last month, the NBA announced that it would not allow teams to be named for corporations. Boosters in both towns were counting on this sort of corporate cash (from FedEx in Memphis, KFC in Louisville) to make team owners forget they were playing in, well, Memphis and Louisville.

The NBA’s statement left a fair amount of wiggle room, however, raising the question of what exactly constitutes a “corporate name.” Calling the relocated Grizzlies the “Memphis Express” has been ruled out—but what of KFC’s reported plans to pay $100 million to any team willing to call itself the “Kentucky Colonels,” which, after all is not just a product placement but also the honorable name of Louisville’s longtime ABA franchise (from, 1967 to ’76)? NBA officials were apparently too busy watching Kobe and Bubba Chuck to comment.

Contributors: Stu Hackel, Neil deMause
Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman

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