At some point, NHL players will need to grow up and treat themselves as professionals as opposed to looking at times like guys who really would play the game for nothing.
The first step? Get over this love affair with the Olympics, a competition that makes other people and organizations richer despite the fact the players assume all the risk. Without that, we’re going to see more silliness like the clock “running out” on a potential 2020 World Cup, which has effectively made it even more difficult for this event to gain legitimacy. It’s like two steps back and the next event – whenever it’s held – won’t be taken seriously because continuity is absolutely crucial to maximizing an event’s impact.
Now, I get it: there are great, wide swaths of this country where weekend warriors and Beer League dudes think “man, I’d do that for nothing,” and they’ll be shaking their heads because – dammit – those NHL guys owe it to us to play for the Maple Leaf. Except they don’t, of course. That’s why they’re professionals. And beyond the fact that one of my first sports editors told me never to take advice from people who’d do your job for nothing … well, the simple fact is that NHL players need to realize that until they get over this attachment to the Olympics they are always going to be short-handed when they negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. As long as they hang on to the notion that it’s OK for everybody else to make money on their labour – driven into them as juniors – in return for hunks of metal to hang around their necks, they are presenting ownership with a scab ready-made to be picked at.
It is one of the most remarkable things in sports labour: NHL owners hate the idea of the Olympics themselves, yet they can still use it as leverage with their players because players are married to some goofy notion of honour. It’s the same reason a guy like Ryan Johansen can say he thinks players shouldn’t leave their teams as free agents, even though he himself has been traded. Talk about misguided loyalty.
The NHL and its players need to strike out on their own and grow their brand, and the way to do that is to strike an agreement with the KHL and hold a World Cup of serious hockey countries with the flexibility to have it in consumer societies where the game has a realistic chance of pushing product and brand. You want to make inroads into China? Great … stage a World Cup round there and control the revenue. Pull out of the Olympics for good and make it clear that every two, three or four years there is only one place to watch the best players in hockey. But show all the other stakeholders that you are ready to commit. Be bold and, if necessary, a little greedy. Show owners you’re ready to claim your ground and hold fast. Toss off the albatross of Olympic involvement. Give us – and yourselves and the game – a real World Cup.
NOW TWEET THIS
In which we contemplate Mike Trout in pinstripes … enjoy the NFL overreacting to that most ancient of occurrences: a botched call … lobby for a Marner-Matthews pairing … start talking up Jays minor leaguer Kevin Smith, who we’ll be hearing a lot of … declare that Tony Romo is god.
• A thing you’re hearing more and more: what if the Yankees have eyes on Mike Trout and are readying to make the Angels a deal they can’t refuse? #MantleEsque
• Man, if the Islanders pass the Leafs somebody’s going to have to remove all the sharp objects within reach of Lou Lamoriello’s fan boys in the Toronto media. #StickYerFancyStats
• I find it comforting that the most over-officiated, over-coached, over-video reviewed, stultified league in the world – the NFL – can still have a big game screwed up by a blown call. Watch the overkill. #CelebrateRandomness
• The Flames have five players with 50 points in 50 games (Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm) for the first time since 1987-88 (Al MacInnis, Mike Bullard, Joe Nieuwendyk, Hakan Loob, Joe Mullen and Gary Suter). #Scorching
• There will be no other injury this season in the Premier League as significant as the Spurs losing Harry Kane until the end of March: since Mauricio Pochettino became manager, Kane has accounted for 36 per cent of the squad’s goals. #Dominant
• I’m convinced we’ll see Nikita Zaitsev on a line with Auston Matthews before we see Mitch Marner. Really does seem that Mike Babcock has it in at times for Matthews. #Puzzling
• Jays not named Vladdy to keep an eye on this spring: shortstop Kevin Smith and infielder/outfielder Cavan Biggio. Blue Jays President and CEO Mark Shapiro said in a Q and A at Winterfest that Smith will get a great deal of playing time as a call-up for Grapefruit League games. #Future
• James Harden is having a season for the ages but, yikes, those Rockets: 18-6 when scoring over 110 points this season after going 43-5 last season. They’ve lost six games in which they’ve led by double digits and only lost five last season. #Duh-Fence
• I hate the NFL because it’s everything bad about the world … but I might watch it for Tony Romo, one of the few NFL analysts who can convert jargon to English and isn’t afraid to use the telestrator before the play. #Romodamus
The results of balloting for baseball’s Hall of Fame will be known Tuesday, and I’ve already made my ballot public through Ryan Thibodaux and @NotMrTibbs, voting for Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Larry Walker. Yeah, I’m one of those voters who doesn’t use all 10 of their available votes and, yeah, I’m one of those people who ultimately believes the process will be overhauled to allow some combination of living Hall of Famers, broadcasters and BBWAA members to make the decision, most likely at the cost of my ballot. Which is cool, and will likely keep happy those who think there’s no room for old farts with grudges or other subjective, personal things – such as disliking Curt Schilling for being a right-wing zealot – when it comes to voting for the Hall (although as a cautionary note, I’ll remind readers that it was the Veterans Committee, not baseball writers, that put in Harold Baines this winter after what one committee member described to me as “nothing less than lobbying” and “futures trading” by Tony La Russa and Jerry Reinsdorf).
If the Hall ever admitted 10 players in one year there would be an ungodly hue and cry about cheapening the induction, so why the hell should anyone be obligated to vote for that many on a single ballot? And as I’ve said often: I made my peace with steroids years ago knowing full well there are folks in the Hall I suspect of using performance-enhancing substances as much as I know Bonds and Clemens did. Teammates and managers of some of those elected in recent years have told me so. Bonds (the best hitter I’ve seen in person and the most feared by miles and miles) and Clemens were jerks … but that’s a function of personality as it is chemistry. Reggie Jackson was right this weekend when he said it’s time they’re both in, although I’d miss the debate when and if it were to ever happen … sort of.
Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show on Sportsnet 590 The FAN from 9 a.m.-Noon ET