Intervention Unlikely in Lockout

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Nov. 16) – Unquestionably, the labor dispute between NHL players and owners would benefit from a neutral third party – as would any stalled negotiation. A domestic quarrel, for example, is frequently resolved by a relative or mutual friend. The not-so-subtle difference between that scenario and a management/union skirmish involves the predicament itself. Whereas a relative or friend may forcefully intervene, business opponents must agree on mediation, and whether or not such a channel is binding.

The climate of the hockey dilemma – now in its third month – would seem to preclude arbitration. Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr and associates find it difficult to agree on whether a day is sunny or cloudy. How would they possibly bow to a third-party movement? We’re at such a low point in the hockey void that Bettman is advocating a further stall in negotiation. The concept of a hiatus during a hiatus doesn’t easily register. It does, however, summarize how obstinate the owners and players have become.

Logic suggests that a person with influence on either side would appeal – at some point – to the requirement for calm. When you think of it, a mutual component is desire to retain an acceptable portion of the 2012-13 season. That can only be accomplished by someone – anyone – advocating on behalf of the consumer. A public trust is at stake once again; Bettman and Fehr retain sole command of the NHL’s immediate future. Deferring the rancor that builds in a labor clash would effectively serve all parties.

GARY BETTMAN (ABOVE) AND DONALD FEHR HAVE TO SAVE HOCKEY… BEFORE THEY RUIN IT.

It is time for the figure-heads to settle down and compromise; to consider, for once, how badly they are hurting so many people and the incalculable damage being foisted upon the sport they govern. Descending to the basics is never easy. Nor is it possible for outsiders to adequately determine all that precludes an agreement. But, it has to happen. And, it can only happen if Bettman and Fehr find a way to chill out; to remember that each has resolved labor issues in the past, and to cut through their unyielding persistence.

Two months is long enough. It really is.

FRIDAY THOUGHTS: Euphoria that thundered here in town over the Blue Jays lop-sided exchange with Miami is easy to understand. Not since the heyday of the Toronto club in the early 1990’s has it commanded such an enterprise. For many, it was a first experience. Beleaguered baseball fans in this city are accustomed to the Blue Jays unloading star  figures (Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay chief among them) for a future that never arrives. There was a time when the locals attracted the apex of personnel; when a trade (Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar) involved the game’s upper-class; when prime free agents (Dave Winfield and Jack Morris in 1992; Dave Stewart and Paul Molitor in 1993) routinely looked north of the border for an opportunity to win the World Series. Twenty years have passed since Toronto rose to the summit of baseball – five years longer than required for an expansion team in 1977 to conquer the sport. Too much interim promise has fizzled. Suddenly, there’s a buzz; a legitimate reason to elevate hope: one that clearly intoxicated fans of sport in this city from the moment the Blue Jays-Marlins trade broke Tuesday night… Damien Cox wrote a poignant column in the Toronto Star about the peril of fast-tracking youngsters into the NHL – a Maple Leaf addiction for years. Morgan Rielly, however, could present a rare opportunity to flourish in that endeavor. Rielly is an exceptional skater – a quality that allows for accelerated growth while enabling a youthful player to compensate for inevitable mis-judgement. Most defenseman Leafs hurried to the NHL (Bob McGill, Gary Nylund, Luke Schenn) were not fleet-a-foot. Conversely, Al Iafrate – wildly erratic when he debuted in 1984 – developed into a premier offensive blue-liner for his skating skill. The recent standard-bearers of such ability – Paul Coffey and Scott Niedermayer – quickly prospered in the NHL. Perhaps it would allow for Rielly to do the same here in Toronto…

LEAFS’ DRAFT PICK MORGAN RIELLY: COULD BE AN EXCEPTION TO THE FAST-TRACK RULE.

Though the Miami Dolphins are clearly mediocre, limiting an opponent to 14 points had to be heart-warming for the Buffalo Bills and their fans. The Buffalo defense is ranked near the bottom of the NFL in most significant categories. Confining the opposition to less than 30 points was an achievement before Thursday’s victory over the Dolphins… More often than not, Bettman appears scripted when talking in public (he is far-more relaxed in one-on-one communication). And though he was reading from a teleprompter at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony Monday night, I sensed a great deal of sincerity in his remarks about the game, and his desire for the NHL to begin play once again. I could hear it in his voice and see it in his eyes. If Bettman can allow for such resolve in collective bargaining, we may still have a lengthy season… It was a pleasure to catch up, on the Hall of Fame red carpet, with former Leaf players I’ve covered through the years – notably Brian McCabe and Darcy Tucker. Leaf fans were merciless toward McCabe at the end of his time in Toronto, but his 50-to-60-point ability on the back end would come in handy with the current club… Noticed at the Hall of Fame gala: Lanny McDonald has blown a glut of feathers on top, but his famed mustache is bushier than ever. Borje Salming still has the physique of a 25-year-old and the face of an octogenarian… I’m working on an extensive blog that examines the violence in the Toronto-Philadelphia playoff war of 1976, and the ensuing criminal charges brought against Don Saleski, Joe Watson, Mel Bridgman and Bob Kelly of the Flyers. If you’re a Leaf observer at least 45 years of age, you likely recall that belligerent, seven-game showdown. Parenthetically, a blatant contrast to current times appeared in the Toronto Sun on opening night of the 1976 Stanley Cup tournament. Leafs drew Pittsburgh Penguins in a best-of-three qualifying round – part of the NHL playoff system between 1975 and 1981. Under a headline “Fans Count on Channel 79”, the story read: Producers of Hockey Night in Canada have arranged for a telecast of tonight’s game between Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins on CITY-TV. The Canadian Sports Network usually deals with the CBC or CTV networks, but both have passed on the preliminary round of the playoffs. “CBC simply felt it had enough hockey with 18, 19 [or] 20 games in the quarterfinal, semifinal and final rounds,” noted [Frank] Selke Jr. (head of the company that produced Leaf games on TV). “They didn’t want to get involved in the preliminary round and waived their right to televise the games.” Who could even imagine such a thing happening today?…

      

LANNY McDONALD AS A MAPLE LEAFS RIGHT-WINGER IN 1975 (LEFT) AND ON MONDAY AT THE HOCKEY HALL OF FAME. STILL NO EVIDENCE OF AN UPPER-LIP.

My predictions for Sunday’s CFL Conference finals: Toronto 27 at Montreal 24; Calgary 13 at B.C. 31… Though times are changing, women in sports broadcasting are still are not recognized at the level of their male counterparts. But, we in Canada have two of the best on either side of the border: Evanka Osmak (Sportsnet) and Sara Orlesky (TSN)…  My five favorite NFL running backs – not necessarily the best, but most fun to watch: O.J. Simpson, Gale Sayers (when I was really young), Barry Sanders, Larry Csonka and Thurman Thomas… Ever notice how many sportscasters cannot pronounce the word “asterisk”? It almost always comes out as “asterick”… I like Brian Burke and still contend he’ll put a winning team on the ice here in Toronto. But, I don’t believe a word he says in regard to not having spoken with Mike Gillis about Roberto Luongo. Burke has often claimed he will lie through his teeth to reporters when the situation calls for it. This is one such example… Puzzling how Leaf fans ignore relativity when talking about the club’s potential in a shortened season. The prevailing theory: Considering Leafs were fairly competent through 58 games last year before tumbling off the cliff, they would make the playoffs in a 60-game schedule. The notion of Leafs declining at the two-thirds mark once again (or after 40-odd games) doesn’t register… Always terrific to see the emotion of a player and his family during a Hall of Fame acceptance speech – and the genuineness of  remarks – such as when Adam Oates talked directly and appreciatively to former teammates Brett Hull, Raymond Bourque and Cam Neely on Monday night. All three were in attendance at the ceremony and Hull, in particular, showed his delight… The Hall of Fame selection committee is often criticized for its bend toward confidentiality. Committee members are more than willing to discuss the people they select and unwilling to explain why others are overlooked. That’s understandable, isn’t it? Any such rationale would be disparaging. Why go there?  

      

EVANKA OSMAK (LEFT) AND SARA ORLESKY: EXCELLENCE IN SPORTSCASTING.

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