Chaos reigns in the NHL
Not to go all bookhead on you, my much-appreciated readers, but the current state of chaos in the NHL brings to mind a quote from the great German philosopher
"Insanity in individuals is rare, but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule."
If we consider the NHL as a group, Nietzsche couldn't be more insightful. The league seems constantly engaged in a series of epic, insane battles predicated on another Nietzsche observation: "There are no facts, only interpretations."
With training camps set to open in just over a week, there has been no resolution to the dispute over who owns the Phoenix Coyotes, where they might play the 2009-10 season, or even whether the iconic
Approaching a fifth month since owner-of-record
That's interesting, given that Balsillie has also vowed to fight on even though the NHL has disapproved him. He was once unanimously approved to buy the Penguins, but has since fallen into grave disfavor because the NHL now believes he is deficient in both character and integrity, a charge that could comfortably be sustained in relation to a steady stream of owners and want-to-bes that spans nearly the entire history of the league.
On Wednesday, Judge Baum promised to give -- before the season starts -- his interpretations on a variety of issues (including whether a person can own a team without being approved by the league, the NHL can offer to buy a team while attempting to scuttle someone else's bid, and a team can move while it is still under a seemingly valid lease). No matter what Baum rules, he isn't likely to end the court battle. That will seemingly go on for decades.
As I first reported
Simply put, the Leafs' interpretation of a line in the NHL constitution, along with their willingness to use their nuclear option, could well open the door to the destruction of pro sports ownership provisions as we know them. That's a stunning and inexplicable irony considering that the NHL has been spending millions in court to defeat Balsillie's attempt to pretty much do the same thing.
Then we have the National Hockey League Players Association.
Indeed, the players' relationship with each other regarding how the NHLPA does business and with whom is now in serious question after the surprising dismissal of
It's impossible to say where the PA goes from here, but given that it's an organization that has been running through executive directors faster than the New York Islanders can sign goaltenders, the future does not look bright, especially if the militants want a director who will challenge Commissioner
If Bettman does anything well as a sports boss, it's preparing and executing a battle plan. He seems to like nothing more than a good fight, having instigated and prevailed (for the most part) in battles with the players, former player bosses, on-ice officials, head office employees, fans (especially those who thought the 1999 Stanley Cup Final might have been tainted by a questionable goal) and the media. In truth, one might easily interpret Bettman's tenure as an endless series of confrontations over an ever-increasing number of issues and in a variety of venues. The PA going all Braveheart on him will likely lead to yet another prolonged work stoppage, an action that could well result in the demise of some franchises and a subsequent thinning of the player ranks.
And then we have the officiating mess.
The resignation of
Walkom's difficulty was on display during last spring's playoffs when rules and procedures that had been dutifully put in place after the 2004-05 lockout seemed to be either ignored or overridden by the NHL's Hockey Operations Department. The free skating and open ice that came to the game largely from the player ranks and efforts of a committee conceived and headed by
Much of the mayhem occurred after hockey ops director
Walkom, who took the job determined to be his own man and enforce the rules as written, won't say as much, but his resignation can easily be interpreted as saying it for him.
There is more to the league's ball of confusion, but the pattern is clear enough and it causes one to wonder what the NHL is attempting to accomplish and whether it has the leadership to succeed.
Think back to when the established NFL was challenged by the upstart AFL in a battle for what many thought would be the future of pro football in the US. After being brought nearly to their financial knees in a series of ugly disputes that benefited no one, enlightened leadership in the NFL opened the door to the "rebels" and brought the rival league into the fold. The result was not the "old guard" prevailing in endless court battles with millions of dollars in legal fees, but an inclusion of bright men with a vision much larger than the status quo. Out of that came the most successful merger in sports history and the continued growth of what is now the most successful league of all time.
It took a certain amount of courage and leadership to accomplish that, especially when the old guard felt the renegades weren't playing by the rules, and the renegades felt the established league was peopled by men who couldn't be trusted. But in the end, there was compromise. They all became, if not friends, at least partners who knew the value of keeping friends close and enemies even closer. Those who didn't embrace at least became fabulously wealthy for the experience.
The NHL could learn from that bit of history, and from
That's also today's NHL and NHLPA. Where they are taking the game appears to be a very different place than where it has been since the last lockout, but one has every reason to doubt they know exactly where they are going.