By Christian J. Stewart – Editor, Island Sports News (ISN)
September 24, 2012, Victoria, BC (ISN) – Will Jim Devellano's controversial comments on the NHL lockout, published here last Thursday in an exclusive ISN interview, actually help the NHL and the players union come to an agreement? ISN's Christian J. Stewart speculates...
Four days after ISN published controversial comments on the NHL lockout from Detroit Red Wing VP Jim Devellano, the hockey world is still abuzz about it, as well as the $250,000 fine levied against Devellano and the Red Wings.
While opinion on Devellano's comments among fans, players and hockey pundits alike appears to be evenly divided between those who felt he was simply telling it like it is and those who felt it was the ramblings of a "dinosaur" who is out of touch with modern day NHL reality, one thing is for certain – it has people talking. And one has to speculate that some of those people are the NHL owners, their commander-in-chief Gary Bettman and the Player's Union boss Donald Fehr.
The two sides were to be meeting Monday to sign off on last season's revenue figures and it can be reasonably expected that some of Devellano's comments might come up over coffee and croissants and that perhaps that could be a catalyst toward working out an agreement and getting the season underway.
After all, prior to the Devellano buzz, talks had stalled and the two sides seemed light years apart. But then along comes Devellano to highlight some of the key issues and realities and with an offer of a potential solution to boot – a 57% (owners) vs. 43% (players) share of revenues – and suddenly there is something to talk about again.
One has to wonder if that was part of the master game plan that Devellano had in mind when he made the comments to ISN's Scott Harrigan last week. Devellano certainly must have been aware that his comments would go against the Bettman gag order and that he would be subject to discipline, but he went ahead with them anyway, which leads this author to believe there was a method to his "madness."
Many in the hockey world are lauding Devellano for speaking his mind and speaking what they feel is the truth.
Sean Gentille of the Sporting News for example felt the Devellano article was a good read because it gave a glimpse into league management's thought process, courtesy of one of its own and that while the league in its statement about the fine cited Devellano's comments as "inappropriate" and "unauthorized", they never said they were inaccurate.
Nicholas Cotsonika of Yahoo Sports concurs and says of Devellano's comments, "The problem is that they were true, or essentially true to the owners' mindset, and the truth hurts. The other problem is that when the league muzzles the owners and executives -- actually, when the owners and executives muzzle themselves -- if one person speaks to one news outlet, it blows up into a much bigger deal than it should be."
Eric McKelvie of Bleacher Report also echoed that feeling. "Devellano may not have chosen the best words to describe current state of the league, the lockout, etc., but his assessment of the situation may be accurate. At the very least, it's good for fans to hear the opinion of someone like Devellano, who has extensive NHL management experience."
Finally, David Shoalts of the Globe and Mail takes that one step further and feels that the Devellano comments actually provided Bettman with a chance to gain some much needed public credibility and trust by "coming down hard" – the $250,000 fine – on one of his (Bettman's) biggest supporters.
In levying the fine, Shoalts says that Bettman sent a dual message, " To the fans, he said figuratively that he is a just and even-handed authority of the league, willing to dispense punishment to anyone on his side of the fence [Devellano also sits on the board as a Governor] if they take a shot at the players. To the owners, team executives and other management types, Bettman reinforced a much stronger message – keep your mouth shut."
Shoalts also argues that given Devellano's strong defence of Bettman in the original interview, the Red Wings will likely never have to pay that fine and that Bettman is unlikely to hound the team for it.
It is also interesting to note that among all the buzz and media being generated on this issue, there has been no official statement from the Red Wings organization, nor any defence from Devellano. One could certainly forgive the Wings and Devellano for not risking further penalty by commenting officially, but the organization seems to have taken this a step further and as of Monday morning, do not even have a single link or mention of the recent news articles on their official web site.
So, given all of this and the fact that the Red Wings are keeping silent on the issue, does that mean Devellano knew exactly what he was doing and that he and Wings owner Mike Ilitch are sitting back enjoying a Little Caesar's pizza and watching the puzzle pieces towards a settlement fall into place?
Probably. As Shoalts points out in his Globe and Mail piece, the Red Wings have more at stake in the lockout than the average team. They will play host to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 which could be cancelled by the lockout. While this is a league event and it pays most of the several million dollars in preparation costs, a cancellation would cost the Wings an enormous amount of goodwill with their fans even if the game is simply rescheduled for a year later.
Devellano is certainly no dummy. He has been in the NHL for 45 years, has helped build a dynasty with the New York Islander teams of the early 1980's and helped transform the Red Wings into a Stanley Cup winning franchise over the past 30 years. He has seven Stanley Cup rings to his credit and sits on the NHL Board of Governors. He is also a Vice President with the Detroit Tigers Major League Baseball club.
He more than most knows exactly what needs to be done to bring the two sides back to the bargaining table, and perhaps by going "rogue" with Island Sports News - a little sports media outlet on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean - he will have accomplished his plan.
Time will tell if this in fact the case, but if this dispute is settled in the next two or three weeks, one can only speculate that Devellano and his comments to ISN played a key role and that if he knew exactly what he was doing, he just could go down in history as the hockey genius that helped save the 2012-2013 NHL season.
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