Edmonton Oilers president-CEO Patrick LaForge has a dual-themed message for Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and Air Canada, all of whom have been notably outspoken in their dissatisfaction with the health and safety of NHL players.
The first part of the message: actions speak louder than words. The second: you get more bees with honey than you do with vinegar.
“There’s people who need to participate,” said LaForge, an alternate governor for the franchise and a key force in Oilers owner Darryl Katz’s bid to build a partially publicly-funded new arena for the team. “There’s owners of certain teams who’ve taken a shot at the game and never gone to a meeting, they’ve never participated in a rule discussion. There’s sponsors who start with a letter threatening, instead of a letter (saying) ‘how do we participate in addressing this?’
“Nobody (in the league) has had a closed door (about the issue), everybody’s had an open door. But it’s not good to start out being threatening.”
LaForge, who has worked closely with the IndyCar race series in his earlier years before becoming president of the Oilers in 2000, said hockey has a responsibility to look for ways to make the game safer, but stressed his confidence that commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL are taking sufficient measures to meet that mandate.
“People are on it and have been for quite a while,” said LaForge, 58. “As we kept going faster in IndyCar, we had to look for more ways to make the track safe for the drivers: more rubber in the corners, less hairpins, slowing them down in certain places. And I think car racing is safer today than it’s ever been.
“In our sport, in the NFL and in other sports, we have to look for ways to accommodate new technology – carbon fiber sticks, glass, and we’re on top of that,” he added. “I do like the spirit there – the approach of the GMs; the competition committee involves players, and players have a lot to say on how those rules are administered. They’re voting at those meetings for what they want and we’re processing that.
“But at the same time, safety is the ultimate, so we have to think of ways to create a more safe work environment. And I think we’re on the right track.”