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Campbell's Cuts: Making new friends

Alex Ovechkin of the  Capitals and Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins appear to have mended fences over the all-star weekend. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals and Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins appear to have mended fences over the all-star weekend. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

MONTREAL – The free lunch for NBC is over. That’s the message the NHL will give to the network when it begins negotiating a new national television contract to replace the one that expires after this season.

Since the lockout, the league has had a deal with NBC that essentially gave the network its NHL property for free. In a deal similar to the one that the Arena Football League had, NBC doesn’t pay the NHL any money, but guarantees that it will cover production costs. Any money made by the broadcasts first goes to covering those costs and if any profits are left over after that, 80 percent go to the league and 20 percent go to NBC.

But that arrangement for NBC is about to end, according to those who are familiar with the league’s television contract. With paying customers in the form of TSN and CBC in Canada and Versus in the United States, the league feels it has the leverage to begin charging a national broadcaster for its product.

And much of the reason for that is the success of the Winter Classics the last two seasons in Buffalo and Chicago. The Winter Classic apparently has become something of a hot property and that alone could drive ratings enough to make picking up the NHL a profitable venture for a national network.

Speaking of outdoor games, look for next year’s to be played between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins at the 69,000-seat Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. The league has come to the conclusion that the outdoor games work much better in a football stadium than a baseball venue and a Montreal-Boston game would be great for ratings on both sides of the border.

A new deal likely wouldn’t be a financial bonanza for the league, but it would provide some revenues and, more importantly, place some tangible value on the television product. Even though all facets of the business are bound to be hurt by the economic downturn, the NHL sees its television presence as an area of potential growth, particularly with the upcoming 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

It’s doubtful that CBS or NBC would be interested in the product, but there are indications that Fox might want the NHL back. Obviously the league would need more than one network bidding for its product in order to have any leverage and as long as Fox doesn’t want to reintroduce its glowing puck, the league would welcome its interest in the game.

OVIE-MALKIN FEUD OVER
The Russian Hockey Federation might want to consider nominating Ilya Kovalchuk for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Atlanta Thrashers superstar apparently has brokered a peace pact between former adversaries Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

And with the Olympics just a year away, the Russian Olympic team will almost certainly be the most prominent benefactor of the whole thing. Repairing the Ovechkin-Malkin relationship will be good for team chemistry and give the Russians one fewer distraction in the tournament.

Much of Kovalchuk’s work came during all-star weekend when he brought the two stars, both close friends of his, together off the ice. It was apparently Kovalchuk’s idea to have Malkin help Ovechkin with his props during the skills competition. All three of them went out for dinner after the skills competition and were seen partying together at a Montreal nightclub into the wee hours of the morning.

Kovalchuk downplayed his part in healing the rift between the two stars, saying the two players came together pretty much on their own.

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“Those two guys are smart enough to do something like that by themselves,” Kovalchuk said. “They’re two great young players and sometimes miscommunications happen, but you have to get over it and that’s what they did. These guys have always been friends.”

It will be interesting to see how the relationship between the two evolves on the ice. Never one to shy away from the physical game, Ovechkin seems to ramp up his physical game even more against Malkin. The two, who were once good friends, have had a number of run-ins off the ice in the past.

It’s doubtful anyone had more fun during all-star weekend than Ovechkin did. However, he did suffer an embarrassing moment when cameras caught him looking at two attractive women on the JumboTron and saying “Wow!”

When asked whether he was embarrassed, Ovechkin replied, “No, why would I be embarrassed? I saw two pretty girls. Why would I be embarrassed about that?”

LEGENDS ON DISPLAY
No team in the NHL trades upon its rich tradition and star quality the way the Montreal Canadiens do and no team treats its legends with more respect. And even the most jaded among us at the Bell Centre Sunday got a little weak in the knees when the Canadiens trotted out a lineup of former stars consisting of Serge Savard, Dickie Moore, Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau, Guy Lafleur and Yvan Cournoyer.

Think about it. If those six players divvied up all their Stanley Cup rings equally, each player would get eight of them and there would still be two left over.

Beliveau, who turns 77 this summer, still remains the most regal of Canadiens and the only former player who makes the author of this corner still stumble over his words.

Even though I wrote a book entitled Habs Heroes that ranked Maurice Richard the No. 1 Canadien of all-time, I secretly hoped our panel would pick Beliveau. After all, had Beliveau joined the Canadiens organization when they wanted him instead of waiting four years, and if he had continued his fine career for another couple of seasons, he would have the most Stanley Cups and all the franchise’s scoring records.

Beliveau spoke about the quality of play in the NHL since the lockout and he likes what he sees.

“When the NHL came back, the only thing I had concerns about was the shootout,” Beliveau said. “I didn’t think that was a good idea. But when I saw the enthusiasm from the fans for it, I changed my mind. I think it’s a great part of the game, but I’m glad they don’t do it in the playoffs.”

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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