Somehow, as incredible as this may sound, I've managed to infiltrate the NHL board of governors meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz. Perhaps it's the $5 I slipped the doorman, or the Groucho Marx mask I'm wearing, or maybe it's the visible sidearm I'm displaying, but somehow I'm inside. This secretive club isn't so secretive after all. I feel like a Rabbi in the Vatican.
I'm seated near the end of a big table where they put all the newer franchise reps and Pierre Lacroix who, shall we say, tends to Â“ventÂ” more than a normal person should. Spicy food can do that to a guy.
As far as I can tell, all the league's GMs are here as well as a couple of coaches, three lawyers and a guy making animals out of balloons. I ask for a tiger but, for my money, I get what looks more like a leopard. We settle at half price.
Commissioner Bettman opens the meeting with his usual Peter Falk impression. Some polite laughter, but nothing substantial. Lacroix leans over. Â“I told him to lead with De NiroÂ”, he says as he shrugs knowingly.
Bettman introduces the CEO of the Outdoor Life Network. A man in a kayak magically appears from under the table. Bettman tells the group hockey viewership on OLN is up 139 per cent over last year at this time. NHL coverage trails only Fly Fishing With Emily in network market share. High fives around the table. Lacroix vents in agreement.
The upbeat meeting continues with the commissioner's proclamation that attendance figures are also booming around the league. His is unsure about the actual figures but makes that two-handed gesture you make when you tell a fish story. Â“It's, like, HUGE,Â” is all he says. To drive home the point he starts the slideshow. We are treated to images of jam-packed bleachers and cheering fans. In one, a rather chubby man is holding up a sign that says Â“Show Us Your...Â”, but then the slide changes. Curiously, another shows people draped in parkas with the scoreboard reading Â“Go White SoxÂ”. And I could have sworn the person serving drinks in the last slide was Bob Goodenow. The show ends with woofing and the occasional fist pump.
On to revenue projections. Again we see the really-big-fish gesture, until the commissioner looks towards Ted Saskin. The large bass is now more sardine-like. He evidently doesn't have the exact figures but says league accountants are hard at work creating some.
One GM isn't happy with the explosion in penalty calls and demands some sound reasoning behind this trend. Fifteen words, (Â“I guess someone doesn't want to go to lunch at Hooters with us does he?Â”) is all it takes to silence this particular critic.
The topic switches to the notorious shootout. Some louder murmurs are heard. Lacroix vents again. Some like the innovation, but would like to see more theatrics involved, say, some midgets on trampolines who perform backflips when a team scores. If a team fails to score, the midget loses the trampoline. Or, instead of midgets, how about a badger? People love animals. Goalies with nailguns? It sure would level the playing field. All in all, some good banter here. The ideas are put into the Â“maybeÂ” file.
The subject of Pittsburgh is brought up. The discussion starts. The participants are knowledgeable, vigorous and steadfast in their beliefs. A heated debate ends only with the conclusion that, unless Roethlisberger fully recovers from his thumb injury, the Steelers are going nowhere.
Someone mentions Turin. Another mentions Torino. Certain GMs, already angry at the possibility of losing players to injury at one Olympics, aren't happy at the prospect of two. An informal vote is taken. As expected, less than one-third of the league's GMs have ever dated Italian chicks.
Word comes from a Bettman aide suggesting that the meeting be adjourned early and that delegates proceed directly to lunch at our scheduled restaurant. A restaurant reportedly now covered in a fine hydrating mist, the result of a malfunctioning safety sprinkler system.
My leopard pops.
Charlie Teljeur, creator of THN's hockeysockpuppettheatre, brings you Loose Change every Tuesday and Thursday, only on thehockeynews.com.
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