A New Mr. Unpopular?
Can't say it was a remarkable weekend in the hockey world, although there were plenty of tidbits.
Like how if you don't believe Craig Ramsay of the Atlanta Thrashers is the NHL's coach-of-the-year so far, you have to believe Colorado's Joe Sacco is. And if there's a better GM in the game right now than Paul Holmgreen of the Flyers, I don't know who that is. Finally, given that the Vancouver Canucks are looking like a bona fide Stanley Cup contender 11 years after the Sedins were drafted, perhaps it's time for folks 'round these part to understand it takes more than two years to turn a program around.
The national junior team, meanwhile, is playing three exhibition games this week starting tonight against Swiss in Oshawa, tomorrow against Team Sweden at the ACC and then Thursday against Finland in Kitchener. Over those games, a No. 1 goalie is sure to emerge - Olivier Roy? - as will line combinations and defence pairings. Brayden Schenn is going to be at the centre of everything this team tries to do offensively. Head coach Dave Cameron told TSN last week that the player he thinks will be intriguing to watch will be speedy Colorado College winger Jaden Schwartz, a St. Louis pick, but many eyes will naturally be drawn to 6-foot-3 New Brunswicker Sean Couturier, a possible No. 1 overall pick next June and the only player on Team Canada not yet drafted.
Which brings us to the official appointment of Donald Fehr as head of the NHL Players Association, a dry piece of news, but the biggest of the weekend.
It will be the Couturiers of the future who will grow up under Fehr's new regime, their careers, or at least the financial ends of them, defined by what Fehr can or can't wring out of NHL owners.
Before that happens, however, Fehr needs to deal with, in some real way, the ghosts of his past, or at least the NHLPA's past.
For starters, while Gary Bettman knows he can get booed in each and every Canadian rink, it's remarkable the blowback already out there that fairly or unfairly identifies Fehr as the demon of the 1994 baseball strike that may have been the beginning of the end for the Montreal Expos. Certainly Blue Jays attendance has never been the same, so there's a sense that Fehr may be behind the proverbial eight-ball within the Canadian sports community before his starts.
in his media conference call on Saturday - during which, by the way, one journalist after another tried to suck up to the new union boss by offering "congratulations" on his new job - Fehr shed a few crocodile tears over the fate of the Expos.
He should be aware many Canadians remember, and haven't forgiven him.
In baseball, Fehr was always able to portray the owners as a nasty, unprincipled lot. In hockey, all the animus is directed at Bettman personally, which the NHL owners love. The players, meanwhile, are always seen as greedy, ungrateful sorts, the bad guys every time around no matter what the issues have been.
Most of them are Canadian, and many Canadians believe they'd play the game for free if only given a chance, and by gum if they'd had the right coach or the right breaks, they'd be in the NHL today anyway.
So Fehr takes over with his own unpopularity in Canada coupled with the unpopularity hockey players generate whenever they get into a spat that might lead to a work stoppage. That said, Fehr's been through this before, as have the players. Those who suggest the NHL can't possibly survive a work stoppage in 2012 clearly haven't noticed that since the "Armaggedon" of the 2004-05 lockout that wiped out an entire season, the NHL is more popular and profitable than ever before.
Finally, the other part of the past Fehr must deal with is that which he seems most reluctant to engage, and that is the dark cloud that still sits over this union for the disgraceful firing of Paul Kelly. There was a coup here, a lot of lies and misinformation were spread, and many fine men, including Kelly, were rinsed out of the association.
Fehr apparently thinks everyone should just forget all that. He's probably familiar with Mark McGwire's "I'm not here to talk about the past" defence. But an investigation was done by the PA into Kelly's dismissal, and if the PA wants to ever be viewed as a noteworthy organization, those facts need to be publicly revealed.
Maybe Fehr wasn't in the background pulling levers and influencing events as many are convinced he was.
If that's the case, he has nothing to hide, and should make sure nothing is hidden.