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Owner-player meeting, big markets and board of governors

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Thank goodness for the opening of the outdoor rinks in Toronto and the World Junior Championship at the end of the month. The lockout was starting to wear down my hockey soul, but those two pieces of entertainment will rejuvenate it some.

Still, it’s hard not to be bitter about the NHL. I once got caught on a live electric fence for a few good shocks after trying to crawl under it – and that was more bearable than this torture. At least I had enough sense to get off that damn fence in a hurry.

• At some point, the big-market owners need to take back control of their league.

Here we have a situation where one owner of a powerful, money-making franchise (James Dolan of the Rangers) can’t even get into the negotiating room with the players, while the league’s sole billion-dollar franchise is barred from printing money because of a divide in “make-whole” demands and player contracting rights that, in the big picture, don’t really impact them.

How inefficient and undemocratic of a system is it where the approval of only eight owners is needed to continue the shutdown of the entire business? This woeful hurdle to common sense takes nearly all the power of the NHL out of the hands of its billionaire owners and their well-to-do teams and into the lap of the commissioner and his small group of staunch, stubborn supporters.

It’s time for the Torontos, Montreals and New Yorks of the league to stand up and toss the weight of their word around. It’s embarrassing enough the NHL is going through another work stoppage, but the fact the behemoths can be shut out like this takes the small-time, hokey-ness of this league to a whole new level.

They’re the ones who should be doing the bossing around.

• And how does the NHL shut out one of its biggest business assets, COO John Collins, from all this? Will he bring too many innovative ideas to the table? Is it because he has too much sense, or that he’s not rigid enough? Is it worth possibly losing him over?

So much about this lockout is just backwards from the sensible thing to do. It’s like watching a television show with a weak plotline where the characters react to events in a nonsensical way that leaves you thinking, “no real person would have dealt with that this way.”

• Even Tuesday’s player-owner meeting doesn’t inspire optimism. Aside from the usual hardline owners Jeremy Jacobs and Murray Edwards, others involved include Mark Chipman of the Jets and Jeff Vinik of the Lightning – two green owners who very recently joined the league with Bettman’s help. Are they really going to come in with a dissenting viewpoint or sudden acceptance of the player angle? There’s just no reason to believe this group of owners will bring anything new or credible to the table.

Where is Dolan, who enthusiastically wanted in? He clearly is no supporter of Bettman and would have provided a legitimate feeling from outside the room that these meetings were really about making headway, even if they didn’t accomplish anything. Pittsburgh’s Ron Burkle is the one glimmer of hope in this gathering, but is anyone expecting this group to change gears significantly towards the players? We can’t help but be cynical.

For the most part, we’re left with a group who will likely keep the company line and try to convince the players why it is necessary to take away most of their contracting rights and a chunk of their salary to save a $3-plus billion business. Meanwhile, a number of juicy hockey markets are left dangling on the vine just waiting for an opportunity to bloom and boom, while others struggle to make money in a capped league. Sigh.

• In the end, Wednesday’s board of governors meeting is more likely to provide a move forward than Tuesday’s meeting. If there really are a group of owners who think enough is enough, they’ll speak up there and try to gain momentum.

But is there anyone out there who truly believes at this point the owners will end this madness within their own caucus? That appears to be our only hope – unlikely as it is.

• Do I really need to start watching basketball? Pee-yew.

Rory Boylen is's web editor. His column appears regularly only on

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