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THN.com Blog: Maple Leafs for sale, GMs meetings and an exceptional player

It appears the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan is prepared to sell the lucrative Maple Leafs franchise. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

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It appears the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan is prepared to sell the lucrative Maple Leafs franchise. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

Some Monday musings for your dining and dancing pleasure:

• The National Football League’s collective bargaining agreement expires, it locks its players out Friday and word leaks out Saturday that controlling interest in the Toronto Maple Leafs is for sale.

Coincidence? We think not. And neither do other people.

There is a notion floating about that the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan made the decision to divest itself of the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment empire because of the possibility of work stoppages in both the NHL and the National Basketball Association.

Pension plans have what are called “risk management” people who constantly monitor the risks involved in the plan’s investments. There is speculation these people concluded the risk of having one or both of its NHL or NBA properties shut down for a season made it the right time to sell.

The NBA deal expires in June and the NHL deal is up the year after. If the Leafs were to shut down because of a lockout, Teachers would risk losing about $50 million in revenues and face the prospect of the value of the franchise going down. It’s true franchise values skyrocketed after the last CBA, but that was because it was a landscape-altering deal. This one would be more of an adjustment to the current system in place.

So these risk managers likely saw they could get $1.3 billion for a pension plan that is facing a future shortfall and came to the conclusion that now is the best time to sell.

• As the NHL GMs gather in Boca Raton, Fla., this week for their annual meetings, all indications are we shouldn’t expect any “knee-jerk” reactions from them when it comes to head shots and concussions in light of the Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty.

Fair enough. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the 30 men who run NHL hockey departments, there is absolutely no doubt they believe they are doing the right thing for the game. You might not agree with it, but you can at least appreciate the logic behind their thinking.

But you have to wonder sometimes about the guys who have the keys to the executive washrooms. It was certainly not the finest moments for either commissioner Gary Bettman or VP of hockey operations Mike Murphy when it came to logical thought last week.

Consider what Bettman had to say when defending the league’s decision to not further punish Chara for an act many saw as dangerously careless.

“I don’t think whether or not supplemental discipline was imposed would change what happened,” Bettman said.

Yeah, he really said that. That would be tantamount to a sentencing judge saying to a convicted criminal, “Yes, I’m aware that you murdered that man. But throwing you in prison for 25 years isn’t going to bring him back, so, off you go.”

Of course it wouldn’t have changed what happened. But by suspending Chara, the league would have provided a deterrent to those who might have found themselves in the same situation in the future.

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And there was Murphy’s justification for not imposing a suspension, which was rife with illogical thought.

In his statement after his decision, he pointed out he had a hearing with Chara, then stated, “After a thorough review of the video, I can find no basis to impose supplemental discipline.”

So why exactly have a hearing, then? If Murphy’s thorough review of the video had already led him to that determination, there was no reason to get Chara’s side of the story. Did he think Chara was going to say something that would make him guilty? Murphy’s comments make it clear the hearing was nothing but a sham to make it look as though the league was interested in having some balance in this matter. And you can bet they didn’t speak with Pacioretty about it, largely because both the league and the NHLPA have an almost total disregard for the player at the receiving end of these things.

Murphy went on to say, “I could not find any evidence to suggest that, beyond this being a correct call for interference, that Chara targeted the head of his opponent, left his feet or delivered the check in any manner that could be deemed to be dangerous. This was a hockey play that resulted in an injury…”

With that, the league should have said it would immediately rescind the major penalty and game misconduct Chara received for hitting Pacioretty. If it was a hockey play, as Murphy said it was, then why exactly was interference the correct call and why would it have merited a major penalty?

• The latest player to apply for exceptional player status in the Ontario League is 15-year-old defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who is playing this season for the Sun County Panthers minor midget team.

Ekblad, who turned 15 in February, must receive the approval of the Canadian League and Hockey Canada in order to be eligible for this year’s OHL draft. If he is available, there is every indication the Barrie Colts, who hold the first overall pick this year, will take him.

At 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, he is certainly physically ready to play major junior hockey and those who have seen him play say he was probably good enough from a skill point of view to be in the OHL this season. Ekblad scored four goals and 34 points in 30 regular season games and added five goals and 21 points in 17 playoff games.

If approved, he would be the first player since John Tavares in 2005, and just the second ever, to receive exceptional player status since Hockey Canada introduced its arcane rule that prohibits minor midget players from playing at any junior hockey level unless they receive the exceptional player designation.

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear every Monday throughout the season.

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