The Sports pages

The NHL’s Power Play

The Olympics started Friday, and writers are already kvetching about NBC’s lackluster coverage. The Los Angeles TimesRandy Harvey notes that the network aired the men’s downhill, the premier event of the opening weekend, about 12 hours after it actually happened. And then there are NBC’s athlete-overcomes-adversity profiles, an object of derision for more than a decade. National Journal’s William Powers asks, “Why do the media run from their core duty at the Olympics—telling the authentically dramatic story of the Games themselves—to chase bathos and plastic empathy? … [Because] in a country as rich and successful as ours … personal hardship is increasingly rare—and thus, a kind of news.”

The Weekly Standard’s David Brooks says the Olympic “propaganda machine” has turned a hard-core athletic competition into a “UNICEF-style celebration of global harmony and cooperation.” The worst examples? The Opening and Closing Ceremonies, “featuring cute children, multicultural cliches, and Up With People-style dance routines.”

Sports Illustrated’s Brian Cazeneuve predicted all 234 medalists. Through opening weekend, he was batting a respectable .259 (seven for 27).

The NHL’s power play: The hockey in Salt Lake City will be “the most anticipated All-Star tournament in the history of this sport,” the Miami Herald’s Dan LeBatard writes. The NHL has suspended its season so that the best players from around the world can compete for national pride. Except for the Slovakians, that is. The NHL threatened teams with a $1 million fine if they allowed their Slovakian stars to skip regular-season games to compete in Olympic preliminaries.

Why didn’t American, Canadian, or Russian hockey players suffer the same fate?

LeBatard explains: “Here’s the system: Six countries (the U.S., Canada, Russia, Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic) were allowed to skate into the advanced rounds here without fighting through prelims—and the NHL will suspend its season for a couple of weeks to allow them to go after gold. The six were chosen based on results of seedings from the world championships last April in Germany, but those games didn’t include Slovakia’s best players, either, because the NHL was playing then, too.” Slovakia’s hockey talent pool is thinner than more populous countries, so it was hurt more by the loss of its star players at the world championships.

As a result, Slovakia couldn’t finish in the top six and get a bye to the Olympics. Instead, Slovakian players had to fight through prelims while playing a full NHL regular-season schedule. Buffalo Sabres right wing Miroslav Satan “had to fly almost 4,000 miles and play four games in five days, and he could do it only because the owner of his Buffalo Sabres was kind enough to lend him a jet. After flying from Ottawa to Utah and driving another two hours because Utah’s airports were closed for security reasons, Satan arrived here at 5 a.m. Saturday, a few hours before his exhausted team was pummeled by Germany 3-0.” Slovakia was eliminated Sunday night after a 6-6 tie against Latvia. Satan missed the game—he was in New Jersey, playing for the Sabres.

Lewis trades Bucs for bucks: Stiffed for the head job in Tampa Bay, Marvin Lewis announced that he would remain as the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator. Baltimore sports pundits rejoiced. The next day, Lewis signed a three-year deal to coach the Washington Redskins’ defense that will pay him as much as $1.3 million annually. The Baltimore Sun’s Mike Preston writes: “You just expected more from Lewis, because Carolina recently stiffed him for a head coaching position and Tampa Bay used him as a pawn in a front office power struggle when the team backed out of hiring him as its coach Friday morning. But Lewis’ standards turned out to be the same as just about everyone else’s in the NFL. Money talked, and he walked.” From the Bucs’ perspective, the Tampa Tribune’s Joe Henderson says, “This is no great loss. The list of places just saying no to Lewis is long and growing.”

Why can’t Lewis land a head job? A few weeks ago, Slate’sTuesday Morning Quarterback wrote that Lewis lost a shot at the Bills job last year because he spent the better part of his interview trashing the city of Buffalo and said he was ambivalent about taking the job. After Lewis was passed over, his agent accused the Bills of racism. TMQ’s conclusion: “Given this, if you were an NFL GM needing a head coach, would you want to have anything to do with Marvin Lewis?”

More NITpicks: The National Invitation Tournament announced that it will expand to 40 teams this year, meaning 105 college basketball teams will make it to the postseason. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Dan Barreiro complains: “I am trying to conjure up a list of things the sports world needs less than another eight teams playing in the NIT. I can come up with only four: Another ear for Mike Tyson to chew on, another manufactured Winter Olympic sport to obsess over, another commercial during the Super Bowl marathon and another politician cheapening the amazing ‘Let’s roll’ comment uttered by United Airlines Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer by attempting to apply it to those about to take part in athletic competition.”