It’s clearly time for everyone who cares about hockey to put the NHL’s feet to the fire – and I mean right now – when it comes to the issue of having another team in the lucrative southern Ontario market.
Because if NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly is to be believed, there is no ambiguity anymore over the notion that the Toronto Maple Leafs have any kind of veto over the league if it chooses to expand or relocate another team to the most fertile hockey market on the planet.
In fact, Daly suggested the Leafs have said if it makes economic sense for the league, the Leafs would, in fact, be supportive of having another team share arguably the richest monopoly in professional sports.
But again, let’s be clear here. Speaking after a sports management conference in Toronto Monday, Daly said it doesn’t matter one iota what the Leafs think about another team entering their market.
“They don’t have to agree,” Daly said of the Leafs. “They can be dead-set against it, but that doesn’t mean they can stop the league from putting a franchise here if the league thinks a franchise here makes sense.”
That, of course, runs in direct contrast to a letter that was produced during the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy proceedings from a lawyer for the Leafs to the league that basically said the Leafs have a veto over any other team entering their market and that they would take whatever steps necessary to preserve that veto.
“What about the letter?” Daly said while getting visibly perturbed. “It says they have a different interpretation of the constitution than we have. So? The reason I’m getting somewhat annoyed is that the whole concept that someone has a veto is just plain wrong. It’s made up. There’s a falsification of the facts.
“It has been communicated over and over and over to the board. Even if the league didn’t agree with the interpretation, what right do (the Leafs) have to change the league’s interpretation? They don’t have any right.”
Well, the league couldn’t possibly spell it out any clearer than that. Daly made it very clear the league will do what’s best for the league and the league only when it comes to southern Ontario. The Leafs, they contend, have no say in the matter and if and when another team comes to the region, the Leafs will live with the decision and take the indemnity money the league, not the Leafs, see as a reasonable amount and they’ll live with it.
Daly and those at the league office are clearly weary of hearing about this conspiracy that the Leafs, in either fact or in practical terms, are standing in the way of another team coming to southern Ontario.
“I guess that’s kind of backwards logic,” Daly said. “They’re suggesting that since we haven’t put a team in southern Ontario, it must mean that we give credence to the fact that teams have the right to veto that. It’s certainly backward logic. Just because we don’t have a team here or we didn’t agree to Jim Balsillie hijacking a team in Phoenix and moving it into Hamilton, that means the Leafs have a veto? Two plus two doesn’t equal three.”
All right then, we’ll take your word for it. So if that’s the case, the league should immediately open the southern Ontario market to the highest bidder. Set the minimum price, set the indemnification fee and watch the potential bidders line up and trip over each other sending the value of the franchise through the roof.
This is a league that is interested primarily in franchise values, making money and having as few teams as possible drawing from the revenue sharing program. Another team in southern Ontario would meet all three of those criteria. If the new owner of the Coyotes does get an escape clause or if the league ever does decide to expand, we now know unequivocally that southern Ontario should be at the top of the list and should get a team.
If it doesn’t happen, we know the Leafs still have the rest of the league firmly in their clutches.
GMS AND HEAD SHOTS
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but the GMs will be talking about head shots at their meeting in Toronto Tuesday and Wednesday.
That doesn’t mean there will be a proposal from the GMs for an all-encompassing head-shot rule, but the fact one of the league’s most hard-line GMs seems to be coming around indicates there could be a hunger for some change.
Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has asked the issue of head shots be included on the agenda and he’s open to penalizing some of the hits we’re seeing in the NHL recently.
“I have not changed my view on an automatic penalty, I have no appetite for that,” Burke said. “But the criteria we apply when we evaluate these, we have to look at when a player has no chance to avoid the hit. The (Jonathan) Toews hit, that’s part of our game. If Toews had looked up, he would have seen it coming. I’m not sure (David) Booth had any chance to avoid it and I just want to review the criteria.”
There are times, Burke would acknowledge, players receiving the hit are not responsible for protecting themselves.
“In the case where the player hasn’t put himself in a vulnerable position and he can’t avoid the hit, we’re going to have to put some culpability on the hitter,” Burke said. “We’ve always said, if the player puts himself in a vulnerable position, that’s his fault. But where he has no chance, we have to put some responsibility on the hitter. We don’t like mid-season changes, but maybe for next season, we can upgrade the criteria.”
NOTHING TO FEHR
Major League Baseball executive director Donald Fehr was also at the conference and was extremely tight-lipped concerning a THN.com report he has been hired by the NHL Players’ Association to help draft a new constitution and search for an executive director.
“I have nothing to say,” Fehr snapped. “If there is something to announce, they will announce it.”
Sources told THN.com Sunday night that Fehr had been offered and accepted the role. He is still the executive director of the MLBPA until March, 2010.
If the NHL can take solace in one thing, it’s that Fehr is heading up the search for a new executive director and not pursuing the job himself. Having Fehr running the NHL Players’ Association would have the league head office pining for the halcyon days of Bob Goodenow.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.