TORONTO – There’s no denying the learning curve now that the NHL’s general managers are talking about social media.
Darcy Regier of the Buffalo Sabres wasn’t even sure if any of his players had a Twitter account when he attended this week’s GMs meeting. So while Phoenix Coyotes counterpart Don Maloney led a discussion on the topic, he was busy punching away at his laptop.
“As he was saying that, I was Googling some names,” said Regier. “Naturally, you start from the youngest up, right?”
And he was far from alone in the room.
“I don’t even understand it, so I wouldn’t know how to draft rules,” said Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke. “I’m clearly lost when we discuss that. So no, we don’t have any rules.”
The NHL is clearly lagging behind on the issue. The NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball all established formal policies more than a year ago.
While some within the ranks of the NHL have long been pushing the league to follow suit, it only now appears ready to have serious dialogue on the issue.
The most interesting question moving forward will be whether the GMs decide to embrace the opportunity presented by platforms like Twitter or if they’ll attempt to limit players’ use because they perceive it as some kind of threat.
The Coyotes are among the more active teams on Twitter, led by colourful enforcer Paul Bissonnette (@BizNasty2point0). He and Maloney have had a couple discussions about things Bissonnette has Tweeted—”every once in a while you just have to say, ‘No, no, no, no, stay on the good side of the ledger,”‘ said Maloney—but the Phoenix organization remains supportive of its players participating.
They understand its importance when it comes to reaching younger fans.
“It’s how people communicate now so we don’t want to sound like dinosaurs,” said Maloney.
Nashville Predators GM David Poile sees both sides of the issue.
His organization struggles to get coverage and he thinks there’s a benefit to using a Twitter account to reach fans directly. However, he also saw what happened to former Predators goalie Dan Ellis, who caused an uproar in the summer when he Tweeted about his financial stress.
Within hours, he closed his account amid a heavy backlash from people labelling him a spoiled athlete.
“I know Dan Ellis and I know what he was trying to say about the money,” said Poile. “But he got rather crucified for his position. He was Tweeting to have some fun I think and it kind of backfired on him.
“I think eventually that’s going to happen with anybody that puts out opinion.”
Interestingly, Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis (@GMMikeGillis) opened an account on Tuesday and said in his first Tweet that he plans to be active.
It’s not clear how soon a policy will be formulated or what it might include. The NHL Players’ Association is bound to have serious interest since it could include restrictions and/or sanctions that affect players, making it possible that a formal policy isn’t tackled until the next round of collective bargaining in 2012.
A primary tenet of the policies in other sports leagues is not allowing athletes to Tweet during games. There hasn’t been much evidence of that happening in the NHL, but Maple Leafs prospect Jerry D’Amigo (@JerryD91) did send a message after getting kicked out of an American Hockey League game last week.
The answer, in the short term, might be leaving it to each individual team to govern its own players. The Coyotes have already drawn up some guidelines that they’ll look to introduce in the near future.
“We put something together and we were waiting for this setting to talk about it and to get everyone’s input,” said Maloney.
Another Central Division team jumps to the top of our weekly look at NHL teams from top to bottom (with last week’s ranking):
1. St. Louis (5): It’s not like Jaroslav Halak is having to make 40 saves every night. The Blues are No. 1 in the league with only 26.5 shots allowed per game.
2. Washington (8): Make that points in seven straight games for Alex Ovechkin, who has quietly been climbing the scoring charts. No surprise there.
3. Los Angeles (2): With all of the young stars on the Kings, few would have thought Justin Williams would be leading them in scoring. It’s nice to see him healthy again.
4. Philadelphia (9): Congratulations to Claude Giroux on his new three-year extension. The 22-year-old appears to be taking a big step forward thisseason.
5. Detroit (3): Nicklas Lidstrom is turning back the clock. The 40-year-old has two goals and 15 points already this season, quickly ending speculation that he is fading.
6. Montreal (6): Where is the Scott Gomez from last year’s playoffs? He’s been brutal, with just three points in his first 15 games.
7. Vancouver (14): Alain Vigneault says it’s his team’s time to contend. They’ve been rolling lately with six wins in their last seven games.
8. Tampa Bay (4): They play 12 straight games in a row at St. Pete Times Forum in January, leading to some strange travel now. After a trip through the West, they played once at home and are hitting the road again.
9. Boston (1): Tyler Seguin took his recent benching in stride. It’s all part of the learning curve for NHL rookies.
10. Nashville (7): GM David Poile has been given some cause for concern after watching five straight losses. It’s time to get back on track with a four-game road trip looming next week.
11. Ottawa (25): A familiar storyline is playing out in the Nation’s Capital, where goaltender Pascal Leclaire appears to have lost his No. 1 status. They’re running with Brian Elliott right now.
12. Anaheim (26): How about that Teemu Selanne? The guy can still play, as evidenced by his team-leading 17 points.
13. Chicago (10): It’s been a challenge to get things going so far. The latest concern for coach Joel Quenneville is the number of goals the team is allowing late in periods.
14. Minnesota (21): Coincidence or not? Martin Havlat’s ice time has jumped since agent Allan Walsh went public with a complaint about his role.
15. Dallas (15): Loui Eriksson is one the NHL’s most underrated players. Entering Wednesday, he’s among the league leaders with a plus-12 rating and has an impressive 16 points.
16. Columbus (17): Hands up, everyone who rushed to grab Mathieu Garon off the waiver wire in their fantasy pool. He had back-to-back shutouts last week.
17. Carolina (22): Jeff Skinner leads all rookie scorers. Kudos to GM Jim Rutherford for grabbing him with the seventh pick at last year’s draft and keeping in the NHL as an 18-year-old.
18. Colorado (13): The Avs are trying to hang tough despite an unusual bout of injuries. They currently have 10 regulars on the sidelines!
19. N.Y. Rangers (11): Derek Boogaard scores his first goal in 235 games. That’s almost as amazing as the play of Brandon Dubinsky, who has been making the most of an expanded opportunity.
20. Pittsburgh (12): It seems hard to believe that some were arguing for Marc-Andre Fleury to be Canada’s No. 1 goalie at the Vancouver Olympics. He’s now last in the league with an .853 save percentage.
21. San Jose (16): Joe Thornton’s reaction to his recent two-game suspension highlights some of the growing pains that will come with rule 48. But the league is right to stay the course on head hits.
22. Calgary (18): Brendan Morrison has performed surprisingly well after getting a contract just before the season. He’s got 11 points in 14 games.
23. Atlanta (19): Chris Mason might be missing St. Louis these days. The Thrashers were supposed to have a revamped defence but the goaltender has been seeing all kinds of rubber.
24. Toronto (20): The scoring has dried up and the Leafs are scuffling. One encouraging sign for the team’s brass is that they are getting good goaltending—something that was missing a year ago.
25. Phoenix (24): The Coyotes are having trouble following up last year’s Cinderella season. They’ve dropped three in a row.
26. Florida (28): Dale Tallon’s proposal for a coaches challenge didn’t fly with his fellow GMs. You have to wonder if that controversial loss in Toronto will end up having an impact on the standings.
27. Edmonton (27): When will Linus Omark get a chance to join the other young players in Edmonton? He scored five goals in an AHL game last week, giving GM Steve Tambellini something to think about.
28. Buffalo (29): Lindy Ruff celebrates a huge achievement by coaching his 1,000th consecutive game with the Sabres. Imagine how many times he’s been on the hot seat during that time.
29. N.Y. Islanders (23): Someone stop the bleeding. The Isles have dropped seven straight games—all in regulation—leading to some speculation about the future of coach Scott Gordon.
30. New Jersey (30): The season is five weeks old and the Devils are still looking for their first win on home ice. They’re 0-5-1 heading into Wednesday’s game at Prudential Center.