You needn’t be popular to be on our POP list. In fact, a mean streak, abrasiveness or public disapproval can sometimes work in your favor.
That’s because our annual People of Power and Influence rankings (found in the Dec. 28 issue) are not a congeniality contest. It’s all about clout.
Last season, for example, Sean Avery wormed his way into the No. 27 place among the Top 100 because of his boorish behavior and the accompanying reverberations. We dropped him from this year’s hierarchy because he simply hasn’t been nasty enough.
Exhibit B is Gary Bettman. The commissioner couldn’t win a one-candidate election in Canada, but his pre-eminence in the hockey world has never been clearer. That’s why, after a two year absence from the No. 1 position, we’ve returned him to the top spot.
Bettman’s crowning achievement in 2009 was taking on Jim Balsillie and winning. Despite treating the truth surrounding the Phoenix Coyotes’ financial health like Plasticine, he never wavered from his position: on his watch, he would never allow an outsider to dictate how the business of the NHL should be run.
It’s a testament to his authority that he got all 30 owners on side, pulling in the same direction. Each of the 30 governors is strong-willed and opinionated; they wouldn’t have risen to their rarefied heights if they didn’t possess robust egos. With Balsillie waving hundreds of millions in their faces, building a case for increasing league-wide revenues and franchise values – while simultaneously diminishing the potential cost of revenue sharing – it must have been tempting to some owners to side with the BlackBerry king.
That didn’t happen; they all fell in line behind Gary.
The belief and confidence the owners have in Bettman is rooted in his performance. He delivers to them what he promises. The salary cap is the primary example. Phoenix, imperfections and all, is another jewel in the king’s crown.
And elsewhere in my brain:
• What should the Senators do to offset the loss of Jason Spezza? How about nothing? It’s clear Ottawa is a middle-of-the-pack team with some glaring needs that was going to be in a dogfight for a playoff berth before Spezza went down.
Trading for a stop-gap does little for franchise growth and ties up precious cap space. Being patient allows for someone to step up, or, if the team tanks, sets them up for a decent draft pick.
Besides, Spezza wasn’t contributing a lot of offense this season; how much will he be missed? All that said, if Ottawa could deal him for a stud defenseman such as Dion Phaneuf – as one of my colleagues suggested would be a good swap for both teams – I’d do it in a heartbeat.
• We put the finishing touches on our all-decade issue this week and a couple of “really?” facts jumped off the stats page: 1. Most games played: Andrew Brunette, 724 and counting. 2. Lowest goals-against average (at least 150 GP): Roman Cechmanek, 2.08. Yes, really.
• Last week in this space I identified Kari Lehtonen as one of the biggest disappointments of the decade. To reiterate for those of you who thought that was unfair, much of the let-down stems from his frequent injuries, which, granted, isn’t necessarily his fault, but doesn’t diminish the bummer factor.
By now, most expected him to be occupying the same stratosphere as netminders such as Ryan Miller, Marc-Andre Fleury and Henrik Lundqvist. Instead, his career path and stats more closely resemble David Aebischer’s.
It’s fine to be “fine” if you’re a seventh round pick, but not when you’re No. 2 overall and projected to be a superstar. On the bright side, Lehtonen is still just 26 and has time, health permitting, to be among the top good news stories of the next decade.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays.
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