Publish date:

Crashing hockey's boys club


I've got no qualms regarding this year's Hockey Hall of Fame inductees Igor Larionov and Glenn Anderson.

I've no serious regrets regarding the Hall passing, for this year at least, on Doug Gilmour and Adam Oates, two candidates who deserve consideration but by no means are inevitable choices.

Unlike a great many in my profession, I don't subscribe to the oft-stated theory that the Hall is ridiculously easy to get into although I do buy into the argument that the selection committee is too small and too heavily weighted to interests beholden to the National Hockey League and its friends and extended family. A strong argument for that is that Ed Chynoweth, a director who died in April, was voted in this month in the builder's category.

Chynoweth is a deserving candidate given his long service to the game, but one can't help but wonder whether the board is honoring him now because of his work or because of his untimely death.

What I do have a problem with (aside from the inclusion of the 1972 Canadian Summit Series team while excluding the 1980 U.S. Men's Olympic Team) is the board's seeming refusal to acknowledge that women exist and that they play hockey.

A look at the selection committee reveals there are no women among the 18 members (17 at the moment) and, to the best of my knowledge and memory, there never have been. It's hard to hear the argument for a qualified female candidate if the closest female to the committee is the one who is asked to get them their coffee.

Surely if my esteemed Sports Illustrated colleague Michael Farber (a strong advocate for women's rights, I might add) can find time to be on the board, then Andrea Hunter, a two-time gold medal-winner at the Women's World Championships and producer of The Women's Hockey Web site would be worthy of a seat.

Certainly if there's space made for a legendary contributor like Scott Bowman, there should be consideration of same for Justine Blainey, a player who had the human rights code changed in Canada to allow women to play on boys teams over the age of 12.

Or how about the women who served on the council that eventually opened the door to women's hockey as an Olympic sport? Aren't they just as influential in their world as board members Jim Gregory, Colin Campbell, Harry Sinden and Bill Torrey, the majority of whom are in the Hall and all of whom owe all that they've achieved in the sport to their affiliation with the NHL?

And if a woman or two or three or four did have a seat at that the table, wouldn't they have at least a chance to make a compelling argument for Geraldine Heaney, who just happened to lead Canada to a gold medal in the first seven world championships and who was named top defensewoman at two of them?

Is it her fault that was as far as women could go in her time and that she was the best of a very good group?

Or how about American-born Cammi Granato, who is at the top of the all-time Women's World Championships scoring list and was a star performer for the 1998 U.S. Olympic team that won the first ever gold medal awarded to a female hockey squad? I covered that first-ever gold medal game between Canada and the U.S. and it holds a place in both my mind and my heart as one of the most inspiring sports moments I ever witnessed.

SI Recommends

The world of women's hockey has a long list of "pioneers" of the sport, women as influential in their time and in their game as any of the builders who first launched and later grew the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation.

Reports differ as to when exactly women's hockey came onto the sports scene in a meaningful way, but there's no question it's been there for well over 100 years. Women's hockey is entrenched at all levels of play in the United States and Canada and other pockets of the hockey-playing world are making strides in that regard. U.S. women's college hockey is a fixture on campuses across the country and it is the single largest hockey avenue available to women playing the game in Canada.

Is there no room for Manon Rheaume, the female goaltender who broke a glass ceiling of sorts when she played on a men's team at the minor pro level and for the Tampa Bay Lightning in an NHL exhibition game against the St. Louis Blues on Sept. 23, 1992? Can't there be room for recognition of Hayley Wickenheiser, who after a celebrated career at the highest levels of Canadian amateur hockey, signed, played and scored points as a pro with men in a certifiable league in Finland?

Surely the long and commendable contributions of Angela James, a Canadian icon who not only succeeded at the highest levels but surely was the inspiration for thousands of Canadian girls who followed her lead, is worthy of the highest honor regularly afforded to hockey-playing men, several of whom didn't accomplish nearly as much in terms of building the sport for what amounts to more than half the human race.

Girls and women's hockey is one of the fastest growing sports in the world and given what women have done for the game at every level except the NHL, isn't it about time they had a seat at the table and a plaque or two or more in Toronto? It is, after all, called the Hockey Hall of Fame. Just last month, the IIHF's hall broke the ice by inducting Granato, James and Heaney -- it's first three female enshrinees.

"It's great because now we're finally being recognized not only in our own country but worldwide," Heaney said.

So what's the holdup in Toronto? Eighteen men, all of them white, nearly all of them tied to the NHL, have held the reins of power in the Hockey Hall of Fame for far too long. It would be a far, far better thing that they open the process up to women willingly rather than to have to explain themselves to the courts, to women's groups and, most importantly, to their wives and daughters as to why they waited for someone else to force their secretive hand.

The cap-floor squeeze

As if he couldn't quite bring himself to acknowledge it, Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed this week what everyone had speculated for weeks: that the salary cap would rise again.

The cap has been rising every year since the lockout ended and is now expected to be in the $56- $57 million range. However, the Commissioner only acknowledged "mid-fifties." You can be assured he does know virtually to the penny what the cap will be, but it's a sensitive subject because as the cap rises, so does the floor and a great many mid-market and small-market teams are said to be incensed over a floor number that's likely to come in at or above $40 million. That's a spectacular rise over the last few years. Before the cap, some teams were struggling with a $30 million payroll.

Revenues have risen, but not for all teams, and the gap between the haves and have-nots is every bit as real as it was before the lockout that was, among other things, supposed to end it.

Coyotes ugly

Sources tell that the NHL Players Association is not likely to opt out of an agreement that has served them better than anyone expected after the lockout. There's a school of thought that says many owners would love to have the same choice and would gladly end the current CBA, but they don't have that option.

The PA is said to be especially concerned about perceived failing franchises. Its numbers indicate that the Phoenix Coyotes are losing near $30 million and with no recourse in sight. The PA intends to urge the Commissioner to do something to stop Phoenix's financial drain on league-wide resources.