Here’s the first thing that ran through our mind after we heard Mark Cuban wants a piece of the NHL’s action: For goodness sake, Gary Bettman, don’t cough up the puck on this one. Do whatever you’ve got to do, but make it happen.
As soon as he had word the Dallas Mavericks owner and internet tycoon Â– as well as former NFL star quarterback Dan Marino Â– was partnering up with a New York City moneyman to bid on the Pittsburgh Penguins, the NHL commissioner should’ve leapt from his leather office chair, commissioned a conference call and said, Â‘Thanks, other interested parties, but don’t call Mario Lemieux’s Ownership Group Â– Mario Lemieux’s Ownership Group will call you.’
For Cuban, Bettman should be planning the welcome mat party to end all welcome mat parties. He should be offering up flaming piÃ±atas modeled after NBA referees, and organizing $500-a-plate fundraisers to help Cuban pay his NBA fines. He should be working a side deal with OLN to finance and broadcast new episodes of Cuban’s short-lived reality TV series.
Despite the NHL’s groundbreaking new era, the league won’t get many shots at a feel-good fable like this again. What we have here is a ready-made, prodigal-son-returns-home-to-keep-the-team-from-moving story, the kind even the impenetrably aloof U.S. sports media couldn’t help but have all day for.
And that’s only the beginning of Cuban’s appeal.
Bring on all the rants and critiques the man can muster. Bring on his brashness, his zeal, his unproven-but-highly-entertaining conspiracy theories and his turbo-charged techie background. Carve out another seat at the end of the players’ bench, and sit him beside the backup goalie if he wants. Because the publicity payout generated by Cuban more than makes up the cost of a bigger Excedrin budget for the league’s head offices.
Then there’s his connection (cue rim shot) to High Definition TV, a broadcast technology many believe will benefit the NHL more than any other pro sport. Cuban founded the HD Net broadcasting channel, and no doubt has the intention of eventually expanding coverage of Bettman’s product in the Hi-Def mix.
Best of all, Cuban only agreed to join the New York ownership group if it was guaranteed the newly-purchased Penguins wouldn’t relocate to another city. That’s big for the city of Pittsburgh, and especially important to a league that already has lost too much of its past. Besides, there are many other NHL franchises that should be uprooted and moved to Kansas City, Winnipeg or Houston before the Penguins. (Of course, seeing as Screen Shots already has reached its yearly quota of dangerously irate reader e-mail, we’ll reveal those places later.)
There’s just no downside to an NHL with Cuban in it, Gary. After he becomes part of the pro-hockey community, you’ll see press interest spike as if Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie agreed to deliver their next child Â– named Snepsts, to the delight of thousands of old Canucks fans Â– at center ice during the league’s next All-Star game. And those who run the NHL Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund (a.k.a. the group that benefits from all fines levied by the league) will adore you forever.
If you shank a sure-fire public relations field goal like this one, Mr. Commissioner, consider gone all the post-lockout goodwill you’ve accumulated. The Gods of Gab have presented you with a gift, and you’d be a fool to anger them by throwing it away.
Give Mark Cuban his NHL citizenship. Keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh. And hurry up, before he changes his mind.
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