A hit from behind caused Leafs defenseman Mike Van Ryn to miss 16 games with a concussion this season. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
As the NHL marathon creaks to a close, here are a couple mini-columns:
• During his current round of anti-Jim Balsillie-themed public relations, Gary Bettman is going out of his way to note the importance of the hallowed laws that govern owner behavior.
But deference to authority and the rule of law only goes so far in Bettman’s NHL. Because, as evidenced by another meeting of GMs that ended with no altered approach to dealing with the league’s epidemic of head injuries, the NHL is demonstrating a near-total lack of respect for medical authorities and concussion studies that cry out for follow-through.
It’s almost embarrassing how much lip service the league pays to the protection of their players, when in actuality they don’t even value NHLers enough to experiment with head-protection laws in the American League, often the way dozens of proposed game changes are tested.
Either it’s simply not important enough for them, or, more likely, they’re afraid of how the game would change and possess neither the courage nor leadership to test-market the product and discover what the actual results would be.
And remember, the NHL is the same outfit that chooses what on-ice rules it wishes to enforce and what rules are in place just for appearance’s sake. Yet Bettman has the nerve to publicly pressure the NHL Players’ Association on the issue of testing for performance-enhancing drugs.
(To be honest, I think it would behoove the players to be proactive on the drug-testing issue, lest a small group of them one day wind up disgracing the game the way baseball has been let down by its athletes. But if they’re going to do it, I also think NHL owners should have to supply a urine sample a few times per season; it certainly could help explain some mind-boggling team decisions over the last few years.)
In other words, Bettman and the owners are deeply, deeply concerned about the state of NHLers’ testicles and back acne.
But their marbles and their memory? Not so much.
So follow along with this fun NHL management math:
NHL owner and league bylaws = full and unwavering compliance.
NHL in-game laws = discretionary compliance, both by players and league brass.
NHL laws to protect a player’s biggest asset = unnecessary, as nobody will adhere to or enforce them, anyway.
That is stunningly ridiculous and utterly reprehensible. Chalk up another moral, if not actual, victory for NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly.
• I felt nervous for Flames fans the millisecond GM Darryl Sutter admitted he was considering himself to replace Mike Keenan as Calgary’s coach next season.
I don’t believe Sutter has lost any Xs and Os abilities. His current tenure in Calgary began back in 2002 as head coach; the intermittent successes he’s enjoyed (including a 107-73-15 regular season career mark as bench boss of the Flames) indicate the man is fully capable of returning to ice level and producing wins once again.
My (potential) problem with Sutter is that, in accepting the dual role of coach/GM, he would be making a conscious return to a management structure no other franchise dares replicate in the post-lockout, salary-capped NHL.
Virtually all hockey observers believe the rigors and dedication associated with the coach and GM positions necessitate that two people fulfill both roles. And Sutter made it clear to those in the know that, when he served as coach and GM in Calgary from 2003-2006, the demands of two jobs were too onerous on him.
Indeed, New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello and Montreal Canadiens counterpart Bob Gainey – each an experienced and skilled mid-season meddler in the muck of his coaches – have known better than to attempt juggling upper management and coaching duties for an entire season.
(Side note: Gainey’s hiring of Jacques Martin as the Habs’ new coach not only took some of the heat off him – it also paid immediate comedy dividends during the introductory press conference when Martin stepped out on a limb and bravely declared, “I really believe that when you have the puck, you’re on offense, and when you don't have the puck, you’re on defense.” Enjoy the next four years, Montreal media!)
But because the Flames’ love/hate relationship with Keenan became more hateful than loving – and because Sutter seems convinced only three people other than himself could do what Keenan couldn’t – what most acknowledge to be a serious structural defect is being spun into some kind of competitive edge.
I’ll believe it when I see it. But something tells me 58 other NHL GMs and coaches can’t be wrong.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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