Saturday, October 30, 2004

Bumped players in Europe not at all happy with newly arrived “scabs”

The fraternity of hockey players is taking a bit of a kick these days in the solidarity department, while fellow NHLPA members debate the merits of holding fast against any kind of salary cap. The players in Europe that are getting bumped by the new refugees aren’t talking cap, their talking about being fed up with crap!

The 236 odd new arrivals have bumped a similar number of formerly gainfully employed players onto the unemployment rolls. And the situation is not sitting well with some of the newly laid off.

And while the NHL stars come to Europe for what amounts to beer money in their world, the folks that were calling the European leagues’ home are crying foul. Corey Hirsch seems to be taking the point on this battle on behalf of his recently unemployed brethren, in an exchange of e mails with Ottawa Sun columnist Chris Stevenson, Hirsch explains how the vast majority of North Americans that relocated to Europe did it to continue their careers and make some money in a game that they love. To have that taken away by the folks that “made it in the NHL” leaves a lot of them with a bitter taste in their mouths.

The new arrivals who are parking in Europe while things sort themselves out back in the NHL, don’t seem to be aware of the damage they may be doing to the players recently released. In a season to season league, performance in one year normally dictates whether you are invited back the next, the layoff of the North Americans puts their very careers in jeopardy normally when they need the money the most. When the lockout ends and the NHL resumes the vacationers will go back to salaries well in excess of the European league average, yet the now replaced players may find that their careers come to a crashing end.

And that has the now bumped players talking about returning to North America should the NHL re open with replacement players. Feeling that they have nothing to lose Hirsch says that they would just be doing what the current NHL players are doing to them.

It makes for a cautionary tone for Mr. Goodenow and the NHLPA, should the owners wait out the union until next year, there’s a very good chance that a pool of players will readily be ready to go to work, having been sent to the sidelines by the NHLPA’s very own players. The NHL stars currently taking their skates in the European leagues may very well have opened up a can of worms from which not good will come.

The logic of the recently unemployed makes sense, in any other strike/lockout situation the workers do not go over to another company and take the jobs of those that are already employed. They take the odd jobs to tide one over until the lockout or strike comes to an end, they work the picket lines and promote their cause.

They generally don’t create misery for other workers who were only trying to earn a living. The move by the NHL players that relocated to Europe, in effect makes the newly unemployed two time losers! They lost their dreams of NHL glory and now they’ve lost their fall back plan to play the game and still make a decent living. Make a person that bitter and you may reap what you sow!

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Thanks for your help, sorry to see you leave!

Gratitude is rather fleeting in Finland, despite leading his team to a sliver medal in the recent World Cup of Hockey. Raimo Summanen has been told to hand in his whistle and clipboard and take a hike.

Summanen was relieved of his duties as coach of the Finnish Hockey team today, apparently the victim of a power struggle between himself and the very players he coached. Stating that they wanted to calm down the inflamed situation surrounding the A team, Kalervo Kummola announced Summanen’s departure.

There were reports of discord in the Finnish line up going back to the training camps of the World Cup, things apparently coming to a head when Janne Niinimaa left the team midway through the tourney, weary of being Summanen’s whipping post.

Summanen declared that he had wished to stay with the National team and feels that he was not provided with the proper backing to make the changes that he had been hired to make.

Compared in some Finnish circles as the Baltic equivalent to Mike Keenan, Summanen was apparently a strict disciplinarian with a bit of a mean streak which the unfortunate Niinimaa apparently felt too often.

The mid tourney revolt didn’t seem to affect the team on the ice as they went through the tournament undefeated until the final game against Canada. Despite the success, the Finns have decided that a happy shiny dressing room is far more desirable than the risk of Mutiny at the rink!

Monday, October 25, 2004

Lockout Update October 25-Oct 31

The opening nights they all were dark,
The players thus began to bark!
The owners kept up a front united,
The ones that talked were quickly hushed!
This week will end on All Hallows Eve,
The witching hour for those who believe.
Will it be trick or treat for the hockey fan,
Or more of the same with no real game plan!

31-Oct-04 Bob Goodenow's list of headaches
31-Oct-04 The European hold out
31-Oct-04 HMCS Goodenow one leaky boat
31-Oct-04 Even more labour trouble on the horizon
31-Oct-04 Time to trim Goodenow's power?
31-Oct-04 Rob Ray ready to cross?
30-Oct-04 Cournoyer disappointed
30-Oct-04 Rucchin to stay the course
30-Oct-04 NHLPA to bring in the big boys
29-Oct-04 It's Not as bad as the networks first thought
29-Oct-04 Backlash to the new arrivals in Europe
29_oct-04 Everybody's talking except the main attractions
28-Oct-04 Mixed messages from the middle class
28-Oct-04 Honey get me re-write
28-Oct-04 The Commodore is on the deck and maybe on the carpet
27-Oct-04 Former Devils owner suggests players bend
27-Oct-04 The Blame Game
27_Oct-04 Lafleur with the Lowdown
27-Oct-04 Talking to talk about Talking!
25-Oct-04 Marty for the Defence!
25-Oct-04 It's north to Alaska the Rush is on!
25-Oct-04 Laying the problems at Gary's door

For the Greed of the Game?

The bright light of accountability is being flashed on minor hockey in Toronto after a weekend series in the Toronto Star highlighted some rather unusual happenings in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. The well documented expose of life in minor hockey’s hottest market, opens up some eyes to a world many of us never knew existed. Robert Cribb and Lois Kalchman report on a system that seems out of control and running under its own set of ethics and rules.

It’s not a new issue; in fact the concept of the control of the GTHL was first brought up last year by Bob McCown on the Fan sports radio station. Indeed on his program Monday, McCown made mention of the newspaper article and immediately had an hours worth of phone calls from people using assumed names one suspects, expressing concern over the direction of minor hockey in Toronto.

Considered by many to be the ultimate in feeder leagues to the Junior A, college and eventually professional ranks, the GTHL is a collection of teams spread out over the vast terrain that makes up Metro Toronto. At the centre of the storm is a real estate agent, who has accumulated minor hockey teams like others would collect hockey cards. Stu Hyman has in the space of five years gone on to control over 93 teams in Metro Toronto, putting over 1500 players from age 3-20 on squads of which he has total influence. It makes for a wake up call for the romantic who thought that the minor hockey of our youth still exists today.

To read the Toronto Star series, Minor Hockey is very much a big business now, Hyman’s teams collect player fees of double the going rate for other teams, and star struck parents seem wiling to part with their monies, so their child can wear the team jacket of one of Hyman’s 90 teams. What real benefit those players may receive seems hard to fathom, but for whatever reason a sense of Omerta has descended on parents of players that toil for Mr. Hyman. Whether they are scared of his power, or worried about rocking the boat for their kids, no one seems to want to go on the record over the issue.

An interesting revelation in the excellent series is the fact that Hyman most recently attempted to purchase another minor hockey property for $300,000. One has to wonder what possible reason one man would want to have control of so many minor hockey squads, more importantly one wonders how out of whack our world is when a minor hockey team is worth over a quarter of a million dollars!

Hyman claims it’s a love of the game and a bid to benefit kids that has led him down this path. But critics and supporters continue to monitor developments and/or raise questions. The fact that he seems hesitant to address those critics in any public fashion only leads to the suspicion that things may not be as they seem.

For any parent of a player in minor hockey the article will be an eye opener, one has to believe that this is most likely the exception to the rule of minor hockey. Somehow the concept of small town hockey teams being auctioned off to the highest bidder seems to be a far fetched possibility. But in the overly competitive urban areas, it seems that the lure of a payoff one day down the line infects not only entrepreneurs, but parents alike.

The bottom line though must be this: if a kid is forced out hockey because the team he played for arbitrarily raised his fees by 100% without any explanation or accountability then the wheels have truly come off the train here. If it’s truly about the kids and for the good of the game, it seems incomprehensible that flipping hockey teams like real estate properties is compatible with that goal.

If Minor Hockey has developed (or descended) into such an industry that the parents of 3 year old children are scraping to find the funds to get their kid on the ”right” team, then we need to tear the whole structure of minor hockey apart and start over.

I played minor hockey for a few years, never made the touring teams, languishing in the House Leagues of Ottawa into the minor bantam years.. I was never under any impression that I was on a path to the NHL, eventually my interest in minor hockey waned and I like many others left the system. The talent I brought to the ice, most likely would never have brought me to the attention of the likes of Mr. Hyman, but more importantly the extortion of outrageous fees, wouldn’t have attracted my parents. It seems a sad commentary about Hockey that there are parents willing to pour that much money into a chase that in most cases will not lead to the Promised Land.

Below find links to the three investigative pieces by the Star’s writers, Robert Cribb and Lois Kalchman, read them, digest them and then wonder if the love of the game has any room in the minor hockey industry of today!

The fact that these demands are being made, is a major cause for concern and more importantly a call for a thorough examination. One fears that Cribb and Kalchman have only scraped the first layer of ice!

From Hockey Dad to Hockey Mogul.

A Looming face off over fees.

Where does money go, hockey parents demand!

Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Final Verdict

Are we less than thirty days away from the complete shutdown of the NHL for this year? If Rene Fasel is to be believed, the remaining NHLers in North America may be rushing for their local passport office by the end of November. Fasel, who is President of the International Ice Hockey Federation, says he believes that Gary Bettman will call an end to the 2004-05 NHL season by the end of November, unless progress is made in a very quick order.

Fasel who offered no background on his claim, just a short blurb to the Montreal newspaperLe Matin, feels that the NHL is dangerously close to the point of no return, suspending operations until a new year unless the two sides find some common ground an quickly. Fasel went further with his observations suggesting that the question isn’t whether we’ll see hockey this year, but if there will anything to watch in the 2005 season!

With over 200 current NHLers presently in Europe there very well be a flood of hockey refugees by the new year destined for the Swiss, French, Swedish, Finnish Russian and German leagues to name a few.

For its part the NHL poured cold water on Fasel’s thinking, Bill Daly who seems to do most of the public speaking for the NHL these days said that Fasel was speaking purely for himself, and that his statements in now way reflected any communications between the NHL and the IIHF.

While that may be so, it seems likely that the bug was planted in his ear by somebody attached with ownership, since the league heavily fines its owners who speak out about the labour dispute; it would serve the NHL’s purpose to have a handy pipeline to funnel worst case scenarios towards the median and thus the union leadership. Whether true or not, the idea may be to create a bit of concern in the union camp, which would be used to move them towards a settlement on less favourable terms than they are seeking at the moment.

Deadlines come and deadlines go, at least with this one the pain is short-lived, with less than tree weeks before Fasel’s version of a drop dead date, perhaps we’ll see the two sides begin to seriously discuss their differences, rather than spend valuable time verbally jousting over the same old, same old.

But if one was a current NHL roster player, putting together the passport photos, getting the paperwork done and getting all your shots might make for a sensible employment strategy for the New Year!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Fact or Fiction with the WHA!

Neil Macrae resident sports guru at Vancouver radio station CKNW, has given legs to a rumour that is quickly making the rounds of the hockey world. McRae is reporting this morning that the NHLPA had explored the option of purchasing the WHA but chose to pass on the opportunity.

The story it would seem has it that, the players association thought that a way to get around the NHL lockout might be to buy their own league and get back to work. Having the players working at their sport, the pressure of a rival loop would thus put some pressure on the NHL to settle on the union’s terms. In a way it would become a league of convenience; to be used as a gambling chip in this giant game of ice poker currently going on.

You can listen to Macrae and Brian Burke discusses the idea on the NW morning sportscast at 8:20, check it out here on their audio vault.

If indeed the rumour has something to it, the questions that are out there make for interesting study. It would be interesting to see what factors the NHLPA used when determining that investing in a hockey league was not a wise decision. Was it the possibility of losing its members money that scared off the idea of buying a rival circuit?

Perhaps after doing some number crunching the NHLPA realized that the challenges of organizing a league with arena leases, insurance, player salary structure and such wasn’t going to make for a profitable situation. Salaries would have been an interesting case study, suddenly players that were making multi millions of dollars would have to try and balance the cash coming in with the cash going out. How long before some players used to making a huge salary would have to be told that due to financial constraints they needed to take a pay cut? Who would run such a collective group, would they nominate one of their team reps or would Goodenow become a defacto commissioner, giving him some common ground with Gary Bettman and ironically perhaps some sympathy.

We’ll probably never know, as there is not much likelihood that the NHLPA will ever admit to having given the idea serious consideration. The necessary due diligence of starting into such a venture might have indirectly given them some insight into the situation that the NHL faces at this time. That would not be helpful to their current stand, that Hockey is making enough money to share among the stake holders, without the need for “hard salary caps” or “cost certainty”.

In a way it’s unfortunate that the rumoured plan didn’t proceed, it would have been interesting to see if the union’s position on the state of hockey would stand up to the test of the marketplace. Is their current stand nothing but pure posturing, designed to apply the maximum pressure to obtain the maximum reward? Or were we on the brink of a brand new revolution in the world of hockey? Was this story Fact or Fiction? It’s an intriguing question, but one that apparently will go unanswered.

Back at the door!

Like one of those feral cats in your neighbourhood, the WHA just won’t go away. The latest from the league with no players, no rinks, no sticks and no skates is that they at least may have some more money.

The league was sold on Monday and for the moment lives on; in a move that resembles the wanderings at a garage sale the new ownership group took custody of some desks, computers and the good corporate name of the WHA. Toronto businessman William Smith heads up a group of investors which plan to sit down promptly to decide if the idea of WHA hockey is salvageable for the 2004-05 season, or if they will require another year to put the building blocks in place properly.

Smith says the league is planning on operating from offices in New York, Toronto and that hockey mad metropolis of Boca Rotan, Florida. A move which would for the moment give the resuscitated league more head offices than franchises!

No word on who the other investors are, but they plan to offer first right of refusal to the previous franchisees, if they can't pony up, then it is assumed that the territory is open for bids. If they’re going to make this thing fly, expect the new owners to announce that they intend to operate this year, perhaps as early as in December. The only rational purpose in anyone investing in this, would be to take advantage of the current labour woes of the NHL, to wait a year to see how things develop would most likely result in the latest version of the WHA mimicing the mess it just inherited.

Whether they have the money, business smarts and wherewithal to launch it successfully remains to be seen. But for now we can put away the spikes for the heart, the pulse is still weak but for the moment the WHA lives. Truly a feral cat with nine lives. Whether we actually see a game is something best left to the all powerful hockey Gods, who shall render their judgement most unmercifully if they are annoyed.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

One part Mr. Rogers, One Part Elwy Yost

He had the look of a Hockey Dad dropping into the rink to watch the kids play, just another neighbour. And dressed as he was like the late Mr. Rogers, one expected that Ron McLean might break into the neighbour song at any time. But this was no episode of Mr. Rogers neighbourhood; instead it was the CBC’s programming gap filler known as Movie Night in Canada.

McLean would introduce a triple header on this first night of what should have been NHL action on the people’s network. Instead of the New York Rangers we were given Dinosaur (perhaps not that much of a stretch after all!), the Adventures of Indiana Jones would take the place of the tribulations of Pat Quinn and Jaws would fill in for the Orca Bay whales known as the Canucks.

McLean did an ok job of introducing the flicks and shilling for the new and exciting schedule of CBC programming coming up this season. But one wonders how long the audience might stick around if indeed it did at all. No Cherry, No satellite Hot Stove, no Kelly Hrudy to dissect the play. Instead we get the chance to view movies readily available on 99 cent night at your local video store. If the CBC really wants to mine this movie night idea, perhaps schedule their excellent mini series of a few years ago called Net Worth, it probably will put the current labour dispute into perspective better than all the talking heads combined.

While Mclean practices his best Elwy Yost delivery lines we at HockeyNation wonder how long it is before the likes of Sportsnet and TSN fill the hockey void with games from the AHL or Junior leagues on Saturday Nights. Instead of the Bay Boy or New Waterford Girl how about following the boys of the Screaming Eagles! There’s an audience there for the tapping should they choose to attack the CBC’s hallowed ground.

Sadly the CBC must know something that the rest of us only fear, the labour problems with the NHL will last a while, they have movies scheduled through til mid December! Perhaps the CBC could expand on the use of their celebrities during the hockey shutdown; my personal choice is to have Nicholas Campbell in his character of Dominic Da Vinci conduct an inquest into the death of the NHL season, now there’s a Saturday night program to die for!

Friday, October 15, 2004

Perhaps he has bigger fish to fry!

With the absence of any action on the ice, we’re left to ponder all the rumours running wild around the vacant NHL rinks. The latest the suggestion being, that Wayne Gretzky may make the short trek from his partially completed owner’s box to down behind the Coyotes bench.

General Manager Mike Barnet has been busy recounting a summer discussion with the Great One where he suggested that Wayne take the reins and run the on ice product from right behind the bench. Not much happened since that conversation, and many speculate it is just some random chatter designed to keep the Phoenix faithful interested in their team.

Though for Rick Bowness the current interim coach of the Desert Dogs things might be nice if they were a little more fleshed out, Bowness still has that less than secure term interim attached to his name and with this Gretzky rumour making the rounds one wonders where he fits into the equation? Video rewinder? Skate sharpener? Tape dispenser? Clipboard holder? The options are endless.

However, for Rick the news may not be as bad as he might think. For if Chris Chelios has his way, Wayne will skip the bench boss job and head for the penthouse! Chelios offered up the idea of Gretzky taking over the entire league, in Chelios' NHL, Gary Bettman gets a pink slip and Wayne gets the key to the executive washroom!

Chelios, who seems to be taking over the job of outspoken critic of the NHL from Brett Hull, recommended Gretzky for the job on a radio program today. That after blasting Bettman’s performance as commissioner in the Detroit Free Press the day before. Chelios may find his lockout social calendar dwindles a bit though, in his Q & A with the Free Press, he called for 6 or 7 teams to be eliminated, which would of course eliminate roughly 150 NHL jobs for his fellow union members. Expect Bob Goodenow to suggest Chely refrain from his problem solving for the time being.

As for the idea of Gretzky for commish there is just one question Wayne must ask himself. Does he just want to be just a trainer of the Dogs or does he want to run the whole kennel?

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

No puck to drop, No skates to sharpen, No hockey tonight!

October 13 would have been opening night for the NHL, had the current labour dispute not rendered the schedule makers work an exercise in wishful thinking. Instead, the rinks remain dark, the negotiations nothing but a distant memory. Instead of the banter of the talking heads about which team improved itself over the off season, we instead hear the latest update on who has processed a passport for Europe. Which owner has laid off arena staff or how the TV networks plan to fill the suddenly huge holes in their schedules.

Hockey in Canada in the fall of 2004 is left to the junior leagues, the college game, and an assortment of minor pro teams in wide spaced locales and of course the early morning practices and late night games of minor hockey and shift worker hockey.

The players sit on their savings and go for a skate on European surfaces, the owners claim they’re not losing as much as if when were actually putting teams on the ice. So with no sense of urgency we just sit back and wait for Ron McLean to introduce the Movie Night in Canada selection of the week. Perhaps a double bill of Slap Shot and Wall Street might be a solid choice for this Saturday!

Brian Burke offered up a solution which was politely received and just as quickly discarded. TSN put together a comprehensive report on the state of hockey and how to fix it, thanks for the memories went the refrain from the league. The lock out will continue until the “financials of the game, make sense”.

With no pucks being dropped this opening night, we are faced with the very real prospect of not having any NHL for the entire year. The owners don’t seem in any hurry to meet the players, nor the players anxious to meet the owners. And if the development from Tuesday is any indication, the chance of the two sides re-uniting any time soon are slim and none.

Nashville Predators part owner (33%), Steve Belkin , stirred up the pot with his declaration that the NHL would operate next year with replacement players if the NHLPA has not agreed to a new contract by then. The hornets nest knocked over by Belkin, sets the tone for the opening week commemoration, quickly turning into a eulogy.

For its part the NHL fined Mr. Belkin $250,000 for his thinking out loud session, suggesting that he does not speak for the league or his fellow owners. Translation: some people need to learn that loose lips sink ships!

The league stated that Mr. Belkin has only been an owner for the last four months and thus was most likely only stating his own personal opinion as to what he would do in our situation. The use of replacement players might be an easier to achieve goal in the USA than in Canada, where provincial law governs labour matters and can vary from province to province. One suspects that Mr. Belkin probably isn’t even aware that there are six Canadian franchises in the league let alone what their legal and governmental issues may be. But the perception is now out there that the NHL plans to wait this out as long as it takes and if it means playing with replacements or even starting a whole new league, then all options are apparently being considered.

Opening night in the NHL is normally a night full of hope, every team goes into the game undefeated, every team hoping to be the next Tampa Bay Lightning and raise a banner to the roof in celebration of a Stanley Cup victory the season before.

This opening night the banner is on hold, the season is on hold and indeed a national sport and national passion seems on hold as well. What remains to be seen is if the fans will still hold that passion in a year from now, it’s a dangerous risk the owners and players are taking, one wonders if they’ve considered that in all of their bluffing, blustering and scheming.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Job Fair

Career opportunities for the unemployed NHLer!

Only the Lawyers get rich!

Well this should make for a wonderful lawsuit; a group called Orlando Professional Hockey is taking the WHA to court, over who has the right to play out of the Orlando Centroplex in 2004-05. The Seals have something in common with the WHA, much like the less than financially stable league; the Seals have suspended play for 2004-5. The Seals claim that rink leasing problems have resulted in them having to suspend their plans for a year. Now doesn’t that sound rather familiar? Never mind taking the WHA to court, with this kind of background they should be applying for membership!

Now I’m sure somewhere in Florida a lawyer is selling the idea of going to court to his or her clients, but one wonders if this is not a lot like Enron suing WorldCom after all the money was gone?

In case the owners of the Orlando Seals hadn’t noticed, the WHA is not exactly flush with a) players, b) ownership or c) anything resembling cash. What exactly they hope to achieve in damages from the fumbling league is beyond me. Pucks, Sticks, Zambonis? It’s doubtful that this crew have enough to buy hockey tape, let alone settle a lawsuit.

At any rate it’s just another roadblock for the brave band of dreamers who keep threatening to bring us the WHA. The Seals apparently feel threatened at the possibility of WHA hockey rearing its ugly head in Florida and have taken pre-emptive action to head them off at the swamp.

Judging by the rapid pace of developments from the WHA the Orlando Seals should have no worries. If the WHA’s success thus far is any indication, the Seals, should they ever solve their problems with the City of Orlando will have the Centroplex to themselves for many years to come.

For now HockeyNation will sit back and await the legal proceedings, Like Judge Joe Brown we look forward to following the case of the league nobody has heard of, taking on the league that no one has seen!

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Saving money (or saving face) at the NHL head office!

If it comes to penny pinching in Gary Bettman’s office, the first thing to go will probably be the Hockey News subscription. In a hard hitting editorial, Senior Writer, Mike Brophy called for Bettman to step (or be pushed) aside with or without a successful solution to the current impasse.

In a rather sharp and pointed compilation, Brophy painted a rather bleak picture of the league under the sixth president/commissioner since 1917. Brophy recounts the many troubles in the NHL under Bettman’s watch, the sour labour relations with the players, a strike by the officials during a playoff run and franchises that are losing less money by not actually icing a team. Brophy examines an American TV footprint that has dwindled year by year, to the point that should the league ever return to the stadiums, the next US deal will feature no money up front.

Brohpy looks at the current state of the league as dire, featuring a tired product on the ice and a fan base that seems to be falling off city by city, pointing to a league in crisis. All of which happened under the watch of Gary Bettman.

The most damning comment in the article is the suggestion that the current stalemate is all about saving face for the Commissioner, nothing to do with saving hockey. He ends the blistering editorial with a call for Bettman to be replaced; stepping aside in Brophy’s opinion is the best that Gary Bettman has to offer.

It’s doubtful that the Commissioner will be taking Brophy’s advice, doubtful that Brophy will get an exclusive interview with the embattled President and even more doubtful that you’ll find a subscription to the Hockey News in the Bettman hockey stocking this Christmas.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Zebra's get a reprieve

Those controversial human resources procedures during Andy Van Hellemond’s reign in the NHL head office have been examined by an arbitrator and found to be wanting. And with that investigation complete, Mark Faucette and Darren Gibbs have been offered their jobs back after being unjustly fired while working under Van Hellemond. Blaine Angus, a linesman who was also terminated during the Van Hellemond years is in the process of filing his own appeal.

The two returnees were evaluated and terminated due to poor performances, though they believe their involuntary departures were more likely linked to refusals to lend their supervisor money upon request.

With the re-instatement of Faucette another can of worms may soon come to the forefront of the NHL officials department. Faucette claims that there is a bias against American born referees, trotting out statistics outlining how American refs are more likely to be terminated than Canadian ones, even if their on ice performance is considered above the Canadians in questions.

Van Hellemond’s time in charge came to an end earlier this year when he resigned under a swirl of allegations about undue influence over his underlings, regularly hitting them up for travel or lunch money loans while on the road. During the heat of the debate over the ethics of asking your employees for a loan, it was announced that Van Hellemond was stepping down.

With a mess like that to clean up, it will take some time to get to the bottom of the issue. Fortunately for the league (if not for the fan) time is something they seem to have a lot of these days.

How can we miss you, if you won't go away!

Well like an abscessed tooth here comes the WHA to once again threaten to launch itself this season. When we last left our little band of capitalist dreamers, they were preparing to toss in the towel having run into a major problem, that being of funding!

Now for some inexplicable reason they’re back and apparently ready to make a go of it one more time! The website that occasionally offers up glimmers of hope from the league today suggests that a group based in Boca Raton, Florida and New York City is preparing a bid to purchase all of the league’s assets. Which considering the state of this league must surely only amount to paper clips, envelopes and possibly a computer and a telephone. No t’s have been crossed, nor any i’s dotted, which is par for the course with this adventure, so we’ll take this latest breath taking announcement with more than a grain of salt.

The latest invention of the WHA is best known for it’s inability to sign players, find a rink to play or even find someone with an actual bank account to help get things onto the ice. But optimism abounds in the closely guarded circle of investors and they claim they still hope to have the league in operation for this 2004-05 season. If press releases were any indication this thing would be a raging success, at the moment though it seems to have more in common with successive ravings!

Monday, October 04, 2004

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Taking away temptation

Lotto Quebec announced on Friday that it has pulled games of the Quebec Junior Hockey League from its sports lottery in the province. The lottery corporation received a fair amount of opposition to the idea of wagering on a sport, which has 31% of its participants under the age of 18.

In Quebec, you cannot legally place a bet if you are under the age of 18. A situationa that is rather ironic; as the lotto folks were getting rich off the same folks they forbid to play their games.The Sport lottery had picked up the junior games to replace the cancelled NHL games that normally fill the wagering appetite of Quebecers. An appetite which last year brought in over 46 million dollars for the lottery corporation.

One of the fears of league officials was the potential for damage to the integrity of the games being played. With the average junior hockey player under 18 making only 40 dollars a week, there were worries that unsavoury characters may approach the young players and offer them riches should they let in a goal or maybe lose the puck in their own end at a convenient time.

With the Montreal newspaper Le Journal de Montreal all over that angle, the league and the lottery corporation were quick into damage control and heading off any potential crisis before it could get started.

The lotto corporation will now turn its attention to other possibilities, one suggestion running games of the European leagues on the punters board, with a high number of NHlers playing on the continent there may be some interest. But any way you count these cards, the house is going to lose big money this year, with no hockey expected for the foreseeable future, that 46 million dollar take is going to be rather hard to replace.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Only a flesh wound!

We’ve said it before and now we’ll say it again. The WHA has fast become a farce out of the script book of Monty Python . The latest out of the less than organized league is, that it is unlikely that we’ll be seeing any WHA teams on ice this year, but hey, check back later you never know we may just change our minds.

With a business plan that apparently didn’t have the texture of a soggy coffee shop napkin (which is probably where the idea of this thing came from) the fledgling league has admitted to some “start up” troubles. With Dallas pulling the plug on its franchise on Thursday, the frequently invisible front men for this league, issued another press release advising one and all of yet another press conference scheduled for Friday which will make clear their plans.

Co-owner Allan Howell refused to say anything further other than to promote Friday’s news conference, while in another galaxy in a world far away, the other co founder Nick Vaccarro said that he was working hard to find a “buyer” for the league and that the reports of the leagues demise were premature.

Like the knight of Python, we lop off an arm and it still wants to fight, chop of the leg and it still takes flight. Laugh along as we leave the eviscerated stump to howl at us from the distance. "We’ll bring you hockey, come back and see, you can’t hurt me, it’s just a flesh wound."

Since the league was first promoted earlier this year, they’ve rescinded a franchise in Quebec City, lost one in Dallas and have a fluctuating number of remaining franchises which have neither rink in which to sit, nor player to skate. An interesting if not surprising situation, considering it involves a sport suddenly flooded with out of work players and empty stadia,

Frankly if the powers that be in the WHA couldn’t get this thing off the ground this fall, then it’s never going to fly. They will never have a better window of opportunity than right now with the NHL involved in what will no doubt be a long, ugly war with its players. The fact that no one has the confidence (let alone any money) in the concept of the WHA should be more than enough evidence to abandon the idea for good.

Rather than throw their lot in with an unknown entity such as the WHA, many of the available hockey talent pool packed their bags and went to Europe. Others have trotted over to the OSHL travelling side show, though it, like the WHA would appear to have a limited shelf life. With fans there rebelling at the price of 60 dollars a seat to watch tier two NHLers play shinny.

Imagine the ticket sales for a WHA team stocked with fourth liners from Anaheim, Phoenix and Carolina to name a few. But then, even the fourth liners took a pass on the WHA. This could be the first league in history to hold a draft and not sign one player chosen over two days. Despite their grand pronouncements about making hockey more exciting and giving the fan value for money, we instead have been treated to a lesson in how not to do business.

Perhaps the only one kicking himself is Sidney Crosby the young junior hockey phenom. Back in the days when the WHA was still attracting semi serious attention, they offered the youngster guaranteed millions to sign on the dotted line, cash up front yours to keep should the league not launch.

Judging by the developments of the last couple of days, easier money may never come that way again.

As for the WHA we can best sum up its fate with this: No players, No rinks, No Hope!

Solidarity Forever!

Oh oh don’t look now, but the folks that brought the sports world into the era of the lengthy labour dispute, have offered up their support to the NHLPA.

Donald Fehr of the Major League Baseball Players Association has sent a letter of support to his brethren in the NHLPA expressing solidarity in a trying time.

Fehr writes “We understand how difficult it can be and we know how long it can last. But we also know what is at stake”. Fehr also went on to express the ideal of maintaining a free market as a worthwhile reason to be on the line.

Baseball and Hockey are the only two “major league” sports that do not have a salary camp, so it’s in his membership’s best interests to come out in support of the NHLPA as it fights the good fight for bonus clauses, incremental pay increases and no trade clauses.

And if Bob Goodenow finds himself bogged down in the details of a work stoppage, then Fehr is his guy. In the last 30 years, Baseball has had 8 work stoppages, the longest and most bitter that of 1994.

In that year, baseball was behind locked gates for 104 days, wiping out league playoffs and the World Series, extending on into the start of the following season. It is also pointed out as pivotal year in the decline of baseball in many cities of North America, most recently exhibited in the death of the Montreal Expos.

For the NHLPA the timing of the support is not particularly great, Sports fans across Canada are still to a degree in shock and mourning over the actual relocation of the Expos to Washington, that after so many failed attempts to move the long suffering team. To have the baseball union jumping into the situation at this time will only serve to focus the public to examine how sports has changed and not for the better.

The watershed moment for that part of Canadianna was the labour disruption of 1994, an event that the Expos never recovered from. For Hockey fans the memory brings back thoughts of cancelled seasons and the death rattle of a once proud franchise.

A situation that may be repeated in larger numbers in hockey, should this dispute carry on for any length of time. The support for the players is no doubt quite welcome, but the reminder of what is at stake probably more important for the fan!