Monday, January 28, 2008

Hey we get a vote too!

Is the frost real or is it the kind you buy in a can to spray on your windows at Christmas? I think this one comes in the can you have to shake well before using. The headline in the Globe and Mail on Monday was “Union, league relationship turns frosty again.” The story by David Shoalts recounts in more detail the question NHL Commissioner Garry Bettman was asked by Ron MacLean after the All-Star game.

The NHL announced during the All-Star weekend that Ottawa, Pittsburgh, The Rangers and Tampa would be playing regular season games in Sweden and the Czech Republic to open next season. In addition Ottawa will play Daniel Alfredsson’s old club team Frolunda in his home town of Gothemburg in an exhibition game while the Rangers will play the Russian Superleague champs from Metallurg Magnitogorsk in a new thing called the Victoria Cup. The IIHF wants this to be an annual game between the European club champion and an NHL team.

Bettman made all these announcements and the NHLPA and its executive director Paul Kelly were told the announcements were being made. They wanted just one thing. They wanted it made clear the NHLPA had not yet approved any of these games, as is required as part of the CBA.

Kelly could have gone along nicely and took part in the feel good nature of the announcement and quietly worked out the details with the NHL later, since that’s what’s going to happen anyway. But instead he took the opportunity to point out that the NHLPA is not a rubber stamp machine. Even if they like and agree with the things the NHL wants to do, they do not want anyone to assume they will just go along with it quietly.

The NHLPA’s big boss was not doing this for your benefit or mine or even the NHL’s. A simple call to Bettman saying (in the future) all things must be buttoned down completely before the NHLPA will be a part of any such media announcement. He made this public because he wants to be that canned frosting. He wants the players to know the new man in charge is no Bettman patsy and yes man. He wants the players to know that Paul Kelly is no Ted Saskin. Many players, especially the Bob Goodenow followers, want to know that the NHLPA is on its way back to being a strong advocate for the players and not the crumbling, scandal ridden, toothless being which was ripped to shreds by the owners during the last CBA negotiations.

Good message to send. I think it’s very important for the health of the NHL that the NHLPA be a strong and independent partner with the league. In my opinion however, during the Goodenow era some of the greatest damage to the game and the business was done in the name of intentional dissent. The NHLPA would fight with the league over anything and everything, all the time and every time. It was the combative nature of Goodenow while in that role and while the results for the players over his term were remarkable, the business of hockey had become a losing proposition for most owners.

Paul Kelly letting everyone, (including his membership) know that he wants to be a good partner, but not a silent partner is great. If it becomes a relationship built on fighting for the sake of fighting, we are headed down another road of finger pointing, lock outs, lawyers and sadly for the average fan, too much talk about what happens each day off the ice instead of the most important thing, which is what happens on the ice.

See you at the rink.