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Kovacevic: A major sport with major issues

| Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014, 10:46 p.m.
In a Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, photo, Canucks coach John Tortorella and forward Ryan Kesler (17) talk to Flames defenseman Shane O'Brien (55) and forwards Lance Bouma (17) and Jiri Hudler (24) during the first period at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia.
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In a Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, photo, Canucks coach John Tortorella and forward Ryan Kesler (17) talk to Flames defenseman Shane O'Brien (55) and forwards Lance Bouma (17) and Jiri Hudler (24) during the first period at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Went to bed fuming late Saturday night over the Flames-Canucks line brawl right off the opening draw, then awoke Sunday to see Twitter being blown up by this from the legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons: “Calgary and Vancouver reiterated why the NHL is a minor sport.”

Now, the Flames have been terribly run for a decade, and Bob Hartley and management deserve everything they get for submitting an all-thug starting lineup. Similarly, the Canucks' John Tortorella — and isn't it wonderful to be able to describe him being on the opposite end of the continent? — deserves everything he gets for later trying to bust into the Flames' locker room.

But rather than go on some long dissertation on that, here, for better or worse, is the chaotic, scrawled-out stream of thought that followed:

• The NHL is in dire need of new guidance. Been rinsing and repeating this one for years now. Gary Bettman is a ringleader, not a commissioner.

• Mario Lemieux suggested a few years ago that punishment for such offenses should be institutional. He's right. When the NHL put in a measly $10,000 fine for bench-clearing brawls in 1987 — along with a 10-game suspension for any player leaving the bench — there incredibly was never another. Seriously, not one. Try that across the board, and all this garbage will disappear faster than the Sharks in the playoffs.

• In the NFL, you might have heard, a team can lose a draft pick for a coach having one shoe on the field.

• How many bench-clearing brawls have you seen in Major League Baseball? I mean just last season alone.

• Baseball writers are making fun of something other than baseball writers after that Hall fiasco?

• If the NHL is “minor,” explain why 19 of their 30 arenas have been filled to 96 percent capacity or more this season, compared to 10 of the NBA's 30. Even though NHL tickets cost an average of $10 more. The NHL's national TV ratings lag well behind, but fannies in the seats count, too.

• ESPN predictably soaked up every drop of Flames-Canucks. It'll pay attention to hockey either the next time something similar happens or if it ever has a vested interest.

• Sidney Crosby, the model for what any league's star should be, was named Canada's captain for the Olympics on Sunday. He was interviewed at Consol by six local reporters and another from Finland who happened to be on hand.

• The real shame of the Flames' actions is that they occasionally pay off. The Flyers were 3-9 when goaltender Ray Emery brazenly assaulted Washington counterpart Braden Holtby on Nov. 1, and they're 22-10-5 since. If you don't think that incident is getting 100 percent credit for that rise, you don't know Philly.

• The Panthers are in town Monday, which offers them a rare opportunity to play in front of humans. Three of their games last season drew a zero local TV rating in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro market. That's zero with a Z. Fewer than 2,000 actual households, so it didn't register at all. Maybe the NHL wouldn't be so “minor” if it engaged in better product placement. See also: Atlanta vs. Winnipeg.

• Will we be calling baseball “minor” when only a handful of teams can afford the next Clayton Kershaw? A league with only the New York, L.A. and Chicago franchises sounds about as minor as you can get.

• Kershaw's $30.7 million annual wage assures he'll make $935,000 per start. The latter is double what the Pirates' Gerrit Cole will make all season. Get a good look at Cole.

• The NFL's got warts, and Goodell only knows a litany of them were on display with that disastrous officiating in the NFC championship game Sunday night, but it does more right than all the other leagues combined. Never mind that half our population tuned in for the championship games. Consider just that State Farm “discount double-check” ad in which Bears fans engage the Packers' Aaron Rodgers in silly dialogue. So much for that baseball-driven myth that stardom can only be gained in the biggest markets. Chicago is our nation's No. 3 market. Green Bay is North Versailles.

• I considered rewriting this entire column to bash NFL officiating, but it wasn't reviewable.

• This is way off on a tangent, but the NHL and MLB at least pay their “minor” players. The NFL and NBA don't. On Saturday, Pitt and Syracuse staged a tremendous basketball game before 30,046 paying customers and a national TV audience without getting a penny of the cut. That's not even minor league. That's bush league.

• Bettman will barely touch the Flames. Take it to the bank. He and the rest of the hockey world have long been terrified of the brash Brian Burke, recently installed as Calgary's president and latest dinosaur-in-chief. Burke will get nothing more than a call from a trembling voice.

• If you'll excuse me now, I've got some minor matters to tend to at Consol, where they'll draw their 310th consecutive sellout as well as a regional TV rating that, based on the total figures from 2013, will be higher than that of any MLB or NBA team.

• If Richard Sherman is major, Crosby should be delighted to stay minor.

Dejan Kovacevic is a sports columnist for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.

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