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Baffoe: The NHL Draft In Chicago Is True Love

By Tim Baffoe--

(CBS) Love is in the air, and it would appear that ol' Cupid's arrow has pierced the tushes of the NHL and the city of Chicago.

On Thursday, the league announced that the 2017 NHL Draft will be held in Chicago. It's so cute when two fawning entities find each other like this, ain't it? Far be it from me to stand in the way of courtship and consummation.

"When I was told this was the first time in league history (that Chicago would host the draft), I said, 'Please go back and check — that can't be possible,'" gushed NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. "And it is."

I know, right? You'd think a marriage between a cold, calculating sports league and a money-lusting city's personnel whose corruption is stranger than fiction would have happened several times already. (Cue sitcom theme.)

Chicago and sports drafts are made for each other. Beyond the grad school thesis on the commodification of human beings in a figurative meat market that lends itself to an Upton Sinclair novel or a Mike Royko chronicling, this is a match made in mutual business interests heaven.

With apologies to Detroit, this sports-loving, infrastructure-ignoring place is Hockeytown USA right now. And maybe no city is more crucial to the NHL brand, so on the surface, Chicago -- with a team whose recent success has a foundation in building through solid drafting -- hosting a draft in the league's centennial year makes for a nice narrative.

But nothing about Chicago is ever really about what's on the surface, is it?

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that "Chicago is the most American of American cities" at the press conference Thursday, a line with which he really likes to reuse to sound deep. We don't know if he knows he's paraphrasing Norman Mailer's account of riots in Chicago and police brutality and what's been called "a portrait of America unsettled, a time in which shifting race relations, the ever-present shadow of a contentious war abroad, and national tragedies hung heavy on the minds of many Americans and ignited divisions nation-wide."

But it's fun to think he doesn't know or get the irony. (And scary to think he does.)

"With no taxpayer support, there are huge dividends economically, huge dividends to the city in the sense of jobs and tax revenue," Emanuel said. "But more importantly, just like the NFL, it will be viewed around the world and that's advertising you can't pay for — from Canada to the Czech Republic to Finland to France from Switzerland. People will be seeing the city of Chicago, so from advertising, kind of soft dollars to hard dollars in the sense of people coming to the city of Chicago, it will be a huge economic and job thing (with) no taxpayers financial support."

That's the Chicago that Emanuel wants people around the world to see. It certainly isn't the Chicago we know -- the tapestry of sociopolitical ills largely interwoven with poverty, crime and educational fiascos, all issues that could use some more money. But "just like the NFL," sports is more important. And everyone claps, as once again we taxpayers aren't cost a dime -- depending on how you look at the dime.

Emanuel said that, "We're going to raise the resources to defer the costs that may come from a security standpoint. We wouldn't want the franchise to do it, we'll do it. It will be private and based on preliminary phone calls and somebody who is a veteran in this effort I believe with all confidence we're going do that with resources."

The resources Chicago Public Schools don't have. That much of the city's South Side and West Side, where the Blackhawks reside, don't have.

When do I get to see a basketball game at DePaul's new arena at the "resource-funded" McCormick Place, by the way?

Emanuel isn't tangoing alone, though. He has found a new intimate partner, one just as lovestruck in this whirlwind romance.

Children's television villain Bettman couldn't be more excited about his draft coming to the Windy City. And who can blame him for falling so head over heels with the vapors? This is a man who tried behind the scenes to kill his own league's best feel-good story this season in former Blackhawks defenseman John Scott. He defends the league's official website that's almost universally hated by lovers of the game.  

Bettman thinks the league's replay system is "pretty close" to perfect and working "extraordinarily well." He said this shortly after Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville made it known that the league admitted refs got a replay call wrong Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks that disallowed a Hawks goal and changed the complexion of that game that ended in 2-0 Sharks win.

The commissioner might as well be an alderman here.

Of course, Bettman also represents a league that sits on its hands when it comes to lesser-than-hockey issues like violence toward women, while Emanuel and Co. talk a big game about the less-than-warm relationship between police and citizens in certain parts of town (like near the United Center). And Bettman's and Emanuel's draft will be held in a building with a statue outside dedicated to a team ambassador and habitual wife-beater and where the likely Ross and Hart Trophy winner plies his trade following an "unfortunate" offseason involving a "terrible thing."

Many a historic romance involves a matchmaker of sorts, and this is no exception.

Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz said that Emanuel "showed the perseverance of a mother-in-law in bringing the draft to Chicago." Oh, Rocky, you're quite the Yente, you. Fitting that Wirtz would use a female stereotype on that lovey-dovey day, since he has well established how he believes the ladies should behave. He also came complete with planted questions and all, which is right out of the Rahm playbook.

You can't criticize true love. And when it's the kind that tongue-kisses in public like the 2017 NHL Draft announcement did without a care in the world for what onlookers might think, it's just so sweet it makes you want to puke.

Tim Baffoe is a columnist for Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.

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