Work in Sports
SI's 2000-01 NHL Roundtable
Issue date: October 9, 2000
When several experts -- broadcaster John Davidson, agent Don Meehan, New York Rangers president Glen Sather, Detroit Red Wings All-Star forward Brendan Shanahan and Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson -- convened to discuss the state of the NHL, the ideas ranged from a one-game Stanley Cup final to junking the red line to disarming the players.
Exerpts from that discussion follow.
Sports Illustrated: Are you happy with the way hockey is being played in the NHL?
Meehan: The foremost issue is the violence in the game -- the McSorley incident, the Niedermayer incident [Scott Niedermayer was suspended for 10 games for striking Peter Worrell in the head with a stick] and others. There's a real concern in my constituency. When a player talks to me about his contract, it isn't so much, "How well can I do? How successful can I be?" Or "How successful can the team be?" But "I better start looking at some security because of the way the game is played."
SI: Is hockey more dangerous or violent than ever before?
Davidson: Oh, absolutely.
Wilson: I think it's just that the guys are bigger, stronger and faster.
Meehan: The players are saying, in effect, that they're concerned about a lack of respect for each other now.
SI: Did they ever respect each other? Did Wayne Maki and Ted Green, who engaged in a legendary stick fight in the 1960s, respect each other?
Davidson: When Gordie Howe threw an elbow, you didn't see a guy out for two weeks with a concussion. The elbow pads the players wear now are dangerous, and the league has set up a committee to look into equipment.
Shanahan: We have to ask whether players are wearing something for protection or more to use it as a weapon. I wear the old-style shoulder pads. I can deliver hits, but I can't run a guy because I have to protect myself. But some guys are getting into football-style shoulder pads -- these pads are more of a weapon.
Sather: Everybody says violence is a problem that the league or the governors should deal with. It's never a problem for the players because the agents don't want to push their clients to stop the violence. But the players are the ones who inflict the damage on each other.
SI: Do certain rinks pose safety problems?
Shanahan: Oh, they've got to get rid of the [seamless] glass. I remember in Calgary getting a very innocent hit into the glass, but when my head hit the glass it was like hitting a brick wall. The investment teams make is too huge to not spend the money to get rid of the [seamless] glass. Great idea as far as viewing the game, bad idea as far as keeping players healthy.
Sather: Don, wouldn't it be better for you to get together with your players and the agents and the players' association and say, "Here are some of the things that we'd really like to fix: We'd like to get the glass changed. We'd like to get the equipment changed, so we can protect players. And we should get together with the NHL rules committee and Gary Bettman." But the problem with that plan is the players' association always says, "If you'll give us $175 a day in meal money, we might consider doing that." There isn't any flexibility because the players' association won't cooperate. Would you agree with that, Don?
Meehan: You and I wish the relationship between owners and the players' association was a hell of a lot better.
Wilson: There are no helmet specifications for NHL players, for instance.
Sather: Remember a few years ago we were trying to get that fixed? Marty McSorley said that he couldn't wear a certain kind of helmet because it would screw up his hair. But that was a negotiating ploy. You know, if you're going to protect the players, both sides have to get together and solve the problems.
Shanahan: The league can say and do whatever it wants [about violence], but that all goes out the window unless you've got capable refs. We've got two referees working each game now. Why can't they stop by the dressing rooms before every game and say, "Look, I saw your game last night. Lapointe, you're carrying your elbows too high. We're going to call that. Shanahan, you were hooking. Here's what we're going to call tonight. Here's how we want the game played."
SI: Ron, are there other improvements that could be made?
Wilson: I'm a proponent of taking out the red line, or experimenting with taking it out, to see if that would open the neutral zone and create more speed.
Sather: You watch the games without a red line [as in U.S. college hockey and some international tournaments], there's very little forechecking.
Shanahan: The European players I've talked to think getting rid of the line would slow the game ... Scoring a goal is great, but mostly you don't want to get scored against.
Sather: I have the opposite way of thinking. I don't care if we get nine goals scored against as long as we score 11. It's more fun and entertaining. Fans like it, players like it.
SI: How do you change the prevailing mind set that's in favor of defensive hockey?
Davidson: I don't care if a game is 1-0 or 6-5 as long as it's intense. My question would be this: The schedule is 82 games plus the preseason; is that conducive to playing good, passionate hockey? If you're playing four games in five nights in four cities, can you guarantee good, intense hockey?
SI: Glen, how many franchises will be left in Canada five years from now?
Sather: Maybe one, maybe two.
SI: Toronto and what other city?
Sather: Maybe Montreal. The reality is, the Canadian teams can't compete because they don't create enough revenue in American dollars, and that's because of the exchange problem. [The Canadian dollar is worth about 68 cents U.S.] O.K., maybe you can compete, but you can't win.
Meehan: If you want to talk about the difference between American and Canadian teams, check out the deal [Predators owner] Craig Leipold has in Nashville. He's got municipal funding. The government virtually bought the arena for them. It built the practice facility for them. He got naming rights. Leipold has walked into the biggest score of the century.
SI: The expiration of the collective bargaining agreement is looming. Are you all planning long vacations that year?
Sather: Some change is going to be good for both sides, and they'll find a way to modify the agreement so it will work for everyone.
SI: What would ownership want out of the new agreement?
Sather: We need ways of controlling costs and equalizing competitiveness. I don't think we'll want to try and regulate salaries or completely share expenses. But there are some inequities among teams.
SI: What changes, Don, do players want?
Meehan: I'm comfortable with the agreement now. It works well for both sides.
Shanahan: Gary Bettman and [NHLPA executive director] Bob Goodenow have done a great job. Now they're getting paid to talk. This is the one hurdle that they have to work on together. That's it. The players pay Bob a good salary, and Gary gets paid a good salary. Their job is to avoid a work stoppage. If there is one, Gary and Bob failed.
Issue date: October 9,