NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 17: (L-R) Jeff Schultz #55, Mike Knuble #22 and Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrate after Ovechkin scored a seocnd period goal against the New York Rangers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 17, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The NHL Inks Monster Deal With NBC, Spurns ESPN, And Hockey Seems... Healthy?

A look at the NHL's new TV contract, and why being on National TV still matters. Plus, John Daly as a life coach, the Miami Heat's newfound chemistry, college basketball's commitment to education, and Nicolas Cage losing his s**t.

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The NHL Inks Monster Deal With NBC, Spurns ESPN, And Hockey Seems... Healthy?

The NHL signed ten-year, two billion dollar TV deal with NBC and Versus on Tuesday, and suddenly, pro hockey in the United States looks as healthy as it's ever been.

That's not something we say lightly about hockey. This isn't like when the NFL signs one of its insane TV deals and we all say in passing, "The NFL's as healthy as it's ever been!" No, the NHL was on life support as recently six or seven years ago, and just when it looked like hockey was ready to recede to the margins of the mainstream, it's suddenly on the upswing.

As Commissioner Gary Bettman said in the league's official press release, "This is the most significant U.S. media rights partnership in the League's history." And he's sort of right.

NBC plans to devote more resources and more airtime than ever before, but more importantly, the NHL reportedly spurned offers from ESPN and Turner Sports before re-upping with the peacock. And here's why that's important. For hockey, being on National TV matters. For any sport, actually. Sporting events just feel more important when they're on National TV.

Like, ever since the NFL put Monday Night Football on ESPN instead of ABC, it's lost some of the mystique. We still watch, but it doesn't feel like an Event anymore. The best thoughts on this phenomenon came from Drew Magary at Kissing Suzy Kolber:

If I’m watching the AFC title game on CBS, part of my brain believes there are a zillion other people out there watching it at the same time. Football fans. Casual fans. Young people. Old people. Rich dickhead people. Poor people. It makes me feel a little less lonely, even though that’s a complete illusion and the reality is that I’m a loser with two kids and no friends who’s watching the game by himself because he has nowhere else to watch it. But that self-delusion matters.

If I’m watching the exact same game, and it’s airing on HGTV or something, that feeling is gone. Regardless of whether or not the game drew more viewers on cable. It’s a prejudice. It’s the world’s least meaningful prejudice, but it’s still there.

...I desperately miss watching the NBA on NBC, because Marv Albert did the games and John Tesh did the score and for some reason I gave more of a shit. ABC can barely be bothered to air NBA games anymore, and when they do air them, that lack of enthusiasm has corresponded with my own, despite the fact that the NBA product is, by many accounts, as good as it’s ever been. Adding insult to injury is the fact that ABC slaps ESPN all over the broadcast and makes you feel like you’re watching cable, which is the precise OPPOSITE of what they should do if they want to pull in more casual older viewers.

With the NHL's mini-renaissance the past few years and the apparent interest from Bristol, they could easily have run back to ESPN to prove that hockey's recovered. But with the Worldwide Leader, they'd always be second fiddle to the NBA and even college basketball. They'd make it to ABC like once, or twice a year, and maybe a few times during the playoffs.

With NBC Sports, they're the blue chip investment. They have a built-in slot on national TV, NBC's going to re-brand Versus to make it feel less like one of those random channels you randomly get on DirecTV, and while the NFL and NBA have ugly lockouts ahead of them, the NHL is... Sort of sitting pretty here?

I'm not saying we need to stop making Gary Bettman jokes or that hockey's about to become America's pastime, but for a sport that was on the brink of extinction, things suddenly look better than ever.

Isn't that kind of amazing?

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Elsewhere in the world...

AT LONG LAST, Ryan Mallet Has An Advisor. It's not an official partnership—John Daly was just offering unsolicited advice to Ryan Mallet, technically—but there's no reason to let the facts get in the way of the best idea ever. JOHN DALY CAN BE YOUR SPIRITUAL SHERPA.

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Or, if nothing else, it's an excellent excuse to relive the greatest installment of my now-defunct Photo of the Day series: Celebrating The Life And Work Of John Daly. Any one of these would make a great desktop background, but I'm pretty sure the picture with the Arab prince is my favorite.

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You Know What's My Favorite Part Of The Miami Heat? THow when they beat up on bad teams like the 76ers, everyone suddenly comes together and says, "They're finally putting it together!" You'd think by this point we'd have learned our lesson, but...

Here's Brian Windhorst at ESPN:

...their recent success smacks of "peaking at the right time." There are plenty of banners hanging in arenas around the country that were won with less talent than the Heat have. Not too many were won without chemistry and togetherness. Now, just more than 200 days into the season, that's what the Heat are showing.

Again, the Heat have always shown this sort of chemistry against teams they blow out by 20 points. This isn't some collective epiphany they're having. When everything's clicking, there's not a team in the NBA that can touch Miami. But when the gears start grinding against good teams?

Well, before we talk about peaking at the right time, let's wait and see. After all, we still haven't seen this Heat team peak in crunch time. Like, ever.

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Harrison Barnes Wants To Be Like Mike. If you didn't understand why Harrison Barnes passed up a chance at becoming the No. 1 pick in this year, this passage from Luke Winn over at Sports Illustrated sheds some light on his mindset:

As a business major with a mindset that's as much MBA as it is NBA, Barnes knows full well that his personal brand would be enhanced by a national title -- particularly one that comes exactly 30 years after the Tar Heels won it all with Michael Jordan, the player Barnes' mother, Shirley, had him model himself after as a kid. Last summer, Barnes said that he viewed college, at the very least, as a "networking opportunity," and a championship would forever link him with UNC's legends. An immediate jump to the pros would have made him only a Brandan Wright-esque afterthought.

Remember this when everyone waxes poetic about Harrison Barnes staying in school during next year. They'll talk about his "commitment to education", his "dedication to his teammates", his "refreshing humility"—and it's all part of a cold, calculated business plan. And frankly, it's pretty brilliant.

One other note from that article:

[Barnes] is the first player in the last five years who didn't go one-and-done after being ranked in the top four on Scout and Rivals.com's prospect lists.

...Okay, that is INCREDIBLE.

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Speaking Of A College Education... Bobby Knight has made headlines this week for a talk he gave in Wabash, Indiana this past week where he blasted Kentucky basketball's academic standards. "Kentucky year before last started five players in the NCAA tournament that had not been to class that semester," he said. "That’s that one and none philosophy.”

And first of all, does anyone else think it's sad that Bobby Knight is doing speaking engagements in places like Wabash, Indiana? Will he speak in Pawnee next weekend?

Second, and more importantly, isn't this all relative? Knight's gotten a lot of criticism for his unfair characterization of Kentucky athletes, but isn't it more offensive that he thinks other college basketball players actually go to class like normal students? And when he sneers about "that one-and-done philosophy", how much different is what Kentucky does than what Indiana did with Isiah Thomas in 1980?

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Finally, Nicolas Cage Is The Gift That Keeps Giving. In case you missed it, Nic Cage was arrested for domestic abuse, battery, and disturbing the peace this past weekend in New Orleans. There's nothing funny about the charges, obviously, but there's definitely something funny about Nic Cage. To celebrate another bizarre Cage story, here's a roundup of crazy Nic Cage stories, all of which are worth your time. My favorite part:

Cage owns a Caribbean island, a dinosaur skull (which he won in a bidding war against Leonardo DiCaprio), 30 to 50 cars, a zoo full of exotic pets, shrunken heads,  jewelry, and his 15 homes. aIn 1997, Cage broke the auction record for Lamborghinis when he placed a $490,000 bid on a rare Miura SVJ. “There’s a cluelessness,” someone who once worked with him tells The Daily Beast. “He’s been wealthy since he was 17 years old, and so he’s very removed from normal decision-making.”

And yes, this video's pretty old, but it can never be recommended enough.

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