Bettman makes bad call with Wings
Gary Bettman is wrong to bench Nicklas Lindstrom against Columbus
There is no momentum for a second team in Toronto
NHL owners appear unwilling to stop the season for the Olympics
Policy 1, Common Sense 0.
Commissioner Gary Bettman was unyielding Saturday on the most pressing issue that arose at the All-Star Game. While the future of fighting, the search for fresh capital/new ownership in Phoenix and the increase in escrow payments the Players Association plans to impose on its membership to make sure there is no shortfall as NHL revenues flatten are key, the one that will immediately affect the league is his decision to rule a pair of Red Wings, Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk, out of the lineup Tuesday when Detroit faces Columbus.
Curiously Steve Mason, the Blue Jackets prized rookie goaltender, who skipped the YoungStars game because of what he said are back spasms, will not be held accountable because the policy applies -- so far -- only to those in the big boys' game.
The implications are sweeping. With Detroit missing two of its top players -- officially Lidstrom has elbow problems and Datsyuk left in the third period of a game against Phoenix last Tuesday with an injury -- Columbus, one of those Western Conference playoff bubble teams, has a competitive advantage. Even though general manager Doug Risebrough of the Minnesota Wild shrugged it off after the Board of Governors meeting, he might not be as sanguine if the Wild finish the season ninth, one spot behind the Blue Jackets, because of two points that came in a game in late January.
If anyone deserved a pass, it is Lidstrom, the six-time Norris Trophy winner who is a wonderful ambassador for hockey. While the All-Star Game should be part of his responsibility, he truly has served his time. Bettman should have let him off with a warning. As St. Louis Blues forward Keith Tkachuk said, Lidstrom is among the most professional players in the game. Just as prior records help determine the length of suspensions that hockey operations director Colin Campbell doles out, so should Lidstrom's meritorious service been taken into consideration. Like a wise traffic cop, Bettman should have let him skate.
But he should go after the Red Wings hard for what one GM called a "group boycott" of the game. Indeed if some of Lidstrom's teammates had stepped in -- Brian Rafalski, Marian Hossa, Henrik Zetterberg -- the league might have let it all pass. Of course if two or three of them had been chosen initially, as their play warranted, then they wouldn't have made other plans -- plans they declined to cancel.
And this is where the NHL fails its players as much as Bettman thinks Lidstrom and Datsyuk have failed the league. The league continues to scour every team for an all-star to make sure each franchise is represented. So Toronto sends Tomas Kaberle, Tkachuk is tabbed, Dallas' Mike Modano is named. With the excesses of fan voting sure to leave some deserving players on the sideline -- Chicago's Jonathan Toews and Montreal's Mike Komisarek wouldn't be here if they weren't starting -- it is incumbent on the league to drop this egalitarian pose and simply reward the best players. The Blues might get some mileage having Tkachuk named an All-Star, but it doesn't create added value to the league.
Nothing brewing in Toronto
Jim Balsillie, don't give up your day job running that Research in Motion company.
In a long answer to the question of a second franchise in Toronto/Southern Ontario, Bettman made it clear that the league has not even begun to consider the possibility. And Balsillie, who has not been coy about his desire to move a team to Toronto or environs, would not be close to a lock if a team were on the market. Bettman pointed out that it takes three-quarters of the franchises to approve an owner, and then a majority vote for an owner to relocate. If the league ever did open the most obvious under-tapped hockey market, the commissioner said, it would also not limit its prospective buyers and canvas for the best offers. "No one has a divine right to that franchise (in southern Ontario)," Bettman said, the cannon shot across Balsillie's bow.
Balsillie's comment that Montreal Canadiens owner George Gillett was looking to sell (he quickly apologized) no doubt further shoved Balsillie back in a line that has yet to form -- and apparently won't under Bettman's watch.
Say that again?
The most stunning phrase offered in the press conference after the Board of Governors' meeting was not Bettman's "our fighters," -- they used to be players -- but Campbell's description of the owner's lockout of 2005-06 as a "lockout." NHL league and team executives invariably refer to it as a "work stoppage," which is true enough in a sense -- work stopped -- but absolves ownership of taking away the players' ability to work. Campbell got off message, but that's nothing some waterboarding won't fix.
A healthy profit margin
While the NHL has warned people about buying counterfeit merchandise at the All-Star Game, a Quebec union, the FTQ, claims its analysis of Reebok's freight imports from 2007-08 suggest that the All-Star jerseys, which sell for almost $120, cost $8.19 to produce.
Olympics may be on ice
The NHLPA is pushing for an in-season World Cup tournament in 2011, but the timing appears to be a non-starter. Bettman says February breaks are not natural, which points to an August/September tournament run jointly by the PA and the league. There have been no decisions about for NHL participation in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but, despite the PA's eagerness to go, ownership seems to have soured at shutting down the league in prime hockey time (post Super Bowl) to chase something that has had few tangible benefits. Bettman once was the biggest supporter of involvement -- he extended a CBA to get NHLers in Nagano in 1998 -- but the Olympic experience appears to be nearing its end.
Lemieux's minor league days
In his final few weeks in the AHL, the Worcester Sharks and the world's youngest 43 year-old, Claude Lemieux, changed the right winger's regimen in order to make him a more effective NHL player. San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson said Lemieux prepared specifically for his role as an eight-minute per-game fourth liner, dropping off the power play and getting ready for short bursts of playing time, "like a sprinter," the GM said. "We never made it easy on him. We sent him to China. He rode the buses in the minors. Played three games in three nights five times. But he never complained, never called to find out what was up." Wilson said that when none of the seven young forwards recalled from Worcester during the season seized a job, Lemieux's recall was a natural.
Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price has worn white pads since he was 14 when a representative from Vaughn explained that white would make him look bigger. Now as he starts his first All Star Game, he is breaking out shiny new red Vaughn pads. (He actually made his first start in them prior to the All-Star weekend, in a loss to New Jersey.) "I got the idea from (Carolina goalie) Cam Ward," who wears red, Price said. "White got boring ... But I'm not superstitious at all." Actually these pads are the third different color for Price in 2008-09. In addition to the trusty whites, he has occasionally worn an old-timey taupe to match Montreal's "vintage" jerseys.