Posted: Tuesday April 25, 2006 1:41PM; Updated: Tuesday April 25, 2006 5:09PM
Sidney Crosby's historic assault on the 100-point mark made for many happy customers in Pittsburgh.
Bruce Benett/Getty Images
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Well, the playoffs are off to a cracklin' start and life is lookin' relatively rosy for the NHL. I go to the penalty box and feel much shame.
Fifteen months ago in this space, I was wiping the spittle off my chin with a grimy handkerchief and furiously scribbling with a pencil stub: It's obvious as the bulb nose on the league's face that it can't afford to take a season off unless it enjoys playing in empty arenas with games broadcast on ham radio.
Go feed it to Sweeney, fat boy. It damn well could, and it has records for total attendance (more than 20.854 million served) and average number of posteriors in the seats (16,955) to show for it. The lure of Sidney Crosby was enough to keep Pitt's burghers forkin' over their florins to sit through a 22-45-14 season. Those wacky Penguins led the league with a 33 percent attendance increase. Twenty-two of the 30 teams are expected to break even or come away with a copper for their china pigs -- up from 11 before the lockout.
As the NHL is learning, the public cash cow can be milked until it is utterly spent and even die-hard fans are driven away.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's as obvious as the bulb nose on my face that sports -- the major established ones, at least -- can survive any amount of buffoonery or outrage, including nice big loads of self-administered buckshot. Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA have repeatedly come back strong after labor imbroglios, scandals or both, even those accompanied by prognostications of doom from spiral-eyed windbags like yours truly.
Clearly, we fans will endure ever-rising ticket and concession prices, the privilege of paying for personal seat licenses and adding our names to waiting lists that are 50 years long. We'll put up with postseason games that start so late you can't keep your peepers open by game's end, cheats of every stripe, athletes lending their earthly presence to the police blotter on a daily basis, publicly funded stadiums with corporate names that change every 15 minutes and absurdly wealthy owners who insist on using your dough to upgrade their businesses. (Last week, Minnesota's House Tax Committee blew a razzberry at vehement public objection and proceeded toward a sales tax to fund the Twins' new emporium without a referendum, a reason if ever there was one for the populace to launch infected sheep carcasses over the walls of the state house.)