With college hoops and Michael Madsen’s jowls doing far better numbers than ESPN’s NHL games of yore, there’s nothing surprising about this morning’s report from The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand.

While leaving a crack open to bring back the NHL, Mark Shapiro, ESPN’s executive vice president, predicted yesterday that the network will not broadcast games when play finally resumes.
“Looking at the future today, we anticipate next year coming and going without any NHL product,” Shapiro said.

Late last week, ESPN informed the NHL that it was declining its $60 million option to televise NHL games.

With no agreement between the NHL owners and the union, ESPN only wanted a revenue sharing deal, but the NHL declined. Shapiro is open to future negotiations.

“Of course, we will listen, but anything in the neighborhood of $60 million is a conversation we are not willing to have,” Shapiro said. “The only deal we see ourselves doing is a no-rights-fee deal. The NBC revenue-sharing model, we believe, is the model that should be used for any partner of the NHL right now given it missed a season, and who is to know what long-term damage has been done for next season and beyond?”

In its revenue sharing agreement, NBC will broadcast seven regular Saturday afternoon games, six playoff games and the last five prime-time games of the Stanley Cup Finals. The NHL in uninterested in such an arrangement with a cable partner.

“When the $60 million option was being negotiated the fact that there could be a prolonged work stoppage was included in that option and we have no further interest to devalue the product,” said Bernadette Mansur, an NHL spokeswoman.

Last time any of us checked, there was no longer a product left to devalue. For all but the most hardcore of fans, top flight professional hockey disappeared from the U.S. sporting calendar with little outcry, and if David Stern and Billy Hunter don’t think it could happen to their game, they’re sorely mistaken. If the NFL, MLB or (for fuck’s sake) NASCAR suffered a work stoppage, the general populace would be going apeshit. Everything else, however, can and will be easily replaced by more poker-related programming.