What a weekend in Ottawa! The skills competition and all-star game proved to live up to the standard of the past few games. I do think that the younger players are prepared to be more engaging for these types of events, and will eventually make them much more entertaining, if the NHL and the NHLPA are willing to be patient.
Give credit to Patrick Kane, Corey Perry and Steven Stamkos, who appear to be leading the way with the new, younger attitude.
The weekend’s NHL Board of Governors meeting was expected to be mundane. Scheduled to start at 9 a.m. and end by 11, it proved to have enough fireworks to sustain itself for a full day of news, until Bob McCown showed up and told the hockey world that Sidney Crosby had a pain in his neck!
What did we get out of the meeting? A few interesting thoughts:
1. The Winter Classic in Detroit will be announced in the next 10 days. The 2013 version will go well beyond the Red Wings and Maple Leafs. Oh sure, there will be an Alumni game, but don’t be surprised if the AHL, NCAA and OHL have roles in the event, with as many as five games within a few days of New Year’s Day. As we have mentioned here before, much of the year-end celebration will occur in downtown Detroit at Comerica Park, owned by the Illitch family, with the big Original Six tilt in Ann Arbour.
2. On ownership issues, Phoenix continues to be an Albatross around the commissioner’s neck. He did suggest there was new interest in a local owner, but also stated that the future for the team might change if there isn’t an owner by the end of the regular season. I must admit, I am one of those people who think hockey in the desert can work, but it will be almost three years since the league has owned this franchise with little success in finding someone to carry the Coyotes flag. If not for City of Glendale money, this team would have been long gone. And while there are rumblings that the city is willing to pay a third $25-million management fee, I get the feeling from league insiders, it just might be time to back up the moving truck. And for those asking, there was as much discussion in the hallways on Seattle as there was on Quebec City.
3. The New Jersey Devils were another hot-button topic for the NHL suits on Saturday. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly wasn’t fazed by the fact the NHL has had to advance the Devils some of their annual re-imbursements (Broadcast, Consumer Products) to assist the team in daily operations. And he was adamant that the team has never missed payroll. What he did say was that the two groups of ownership aren’t really getting along, and it would be in the best interest of the franchise to find a new principal partner.
4. On a bit more positive news, the league is confident that the St. Louis Blues will have a new majority owner in Tom Stillman. Stillman, whose major business interest is beer distribution, has been sitting on the sidelines as a minority owner of the Blues as others have tried to finance the purchase of the team. After Matthew Hulsizer’s exclusive window ended on Dec. 31, Stillman stepped in and entered into an exclusive window early in the new year. Daly told me that it was his hope Stillman would complete his ownership agreement by mid-March.
Finally, what was fascinating to see at the Chateau Laurier was the proximity of the NHPLA hospitality suite to the Board of Governors meeting room. They were probably 100 feet apart. And as Don Fehr, Mike Ouellett and their people greeted the players and their families, the commissioner was giving some brief notes of the impending CBA talks to the owners.
Neither side is yet to say when official bargaining will take place, but make no mistake, both sides are in full training, bobbing and weaving, preparing for the heavyweight fight.