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Tom Mayenknecht: Winners and losers in the business of sport

Opinion: NHL appears headed for an engaging finish to its regular season.

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Bulls of the week

It’s been another terrific week for scoreboard watching in the NHL, a 32-team circuit that appears headed for an engaging if not record-setting finish in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and more importantly, home-ice advantage through the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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Going into the weekend, and with a dozen or so games left in the regular schedule, eight teams are separated by four points or less at the top of the standings. That represents a remarkable 25 per cent of the NHL that is within easy striking distance of the top seed overall with three weeks to go.

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That’s an unprecedented traffic jam that sees last year’s Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins at the top of the charts with 97 points, the New York Rangers and the Vancouver Canucks next at 96 points, the Florida Panthers and the Carolina Hurricanes at 94, and three teams knotted at 93 (the Winnipeg Jets, Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars).

Another eight teams are currently in divisional or wild-card playoff spots, with another half-dozen or so legitimately in the chase.

Only three teams — the bottom-dwelling San Jose Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks and the Anaheim Ducks — have been officially eliminated.

That means somewhere between half to two-thirds of the league could very well be in play going into the last week of the regular season. That’s great news for media rights-holders, sponsors, merchandise licensees and sports bars whose businesses depend so heavily on fan interest and engagement.

Talking about fan engagement, the power of bracketology made NCAA college basketball a bull market again this week.

Little-known guard Jack Gohlke of Michigan’s Oakland Golden Grizzlies epitomized what makes NCAA March Madness something special and worthy of its nickname. Gohlke had 10 treys in an astonishing 80-76 upset win over the third-seeded University of Kentucky on Thursday. It delivered what has become an annual tradition in the opening round of the tournament: The media headlines and news flashes that come along with such an upset.

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In Gohlke, it also provided yet another poster boy for clutch performances when they’re least expected. Make no mistake, March Madness is about the money — a total of US$226 million up for grabs, including a projected US$2 million to the winning men’s team.

Yet it’s also about the human stories that everyone — underdogs and favourites alike — can relate to.

One thing to watch this year: How women’s TV audiences compare with the men’s numbers given a record-setting year of female star power defined largely by headline-makers such as Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese.

Bears of the week

The biggest headlines of the week, however, were made by Ippei Mizuhara, the lead interpreter for Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

His self-confessed gambling addiction threatened to suck the oxygen out of the beginning of the new MLB regular season, one that began with two games in Seoul between the Dodgers and San Diego Padres.

With stories that changed by the hour, he threatened to embroil his friend and client Ohtani in a scandal that appears as unpredictable in its outcome as it is bizarre in its conflicting statements and evidence.

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One thing for sure, his dismissal this week is the beginning of the story, not the end.

Tom Mayenknecht is the host of The Sport Market on Sportsnet 650 on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Vancouver-based sport business commentator and principal in Emblematica Brand Builders provides a behind-the-scenes look at the sport business stories that matter most to fans. Follow Mayenknecht at: twitter.com/TheSportMarket.

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