Hab owner shows leadership that Bettman lacks

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:07 PM ET

It is a topic that is addressed often in hockey, a cherished quality that is hard to quantify.

Leadership.

We saw two public examples of it Thursday, one from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and one from Montreal Canadiens owner and chairman of the board Geoff Molson.

The terrifying hit by Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara on Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty has had a polarizing effect in the world of hockey. Bettman and his hockey men are barricaded behind their walls of old-school hockey dogma that says if anything is close to a "hockey play," regardless of its result, it is acceptable. There have been a lot of quotes from "hockey people," backing the decision not to suspend Chara, but that doesn't square with the image of Pacioretty on the ice and the severity of his injuries.

Maybe the hockey men are out of touch with what is acceptable to their fans and business partners and, now, to a growing number of people within the league itself, the very people to whom they owe their livelihood.

On the other side of the moat, there are growing voices challenging what is happening on the rinks of the NHL and, for a change, they are not only those of the media bleating about violence in hockey. A few weeks ago we heard from Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, in the past couple of days from Air Canada, a business partner and sponsor of the league, and now from Molson, whose family's involvement in the league goes back almost to the foundation of the league itself.

When told of the decision not to suspend Chara, Renaud Lavoie of RDS quoted one star player saying, "I want to puke."

In the past couple of days when Bettman and Molson were confronted with a divergent opinion, they reacted in different ways.

When presented with the grave concerns of Air Canada, one of its big sponsors and business partners, over the dangerous direction in which the league is trending with head injuries, Bettman basically told Air Canada if they didn't like what they're seeing, they could take one of their flights.

He reminded a long-time partner of the league the NHL has plenty of other options, as well, if the clubs decide "Air Canada is not giving them the appropriate level of service." It sounded like a threat.

It came off as arrogant and beneath a man in charge of a multibillion dollar company whose greatest asset is the passion of hockey fans which endures despite the sometimes confounding decisions taken by the men in suits who run the league.

Later in the day, Molson issued a letter that is tantamount to a challenge to the direction the league is taking right now and, by extension, the leadership of the league. Molson wrote of the decision not to suspend Chara for his hit on Pacioretty: "It was one which shook the faith that we, as a community, have in this sport that we hold in such high regard."

Molson has been sitting at the board of governors table for less than a year. He showed some major stones with his letter Thursday but, after making his point, Molson showed the leadership that Bettman has not.

Molson wrote: "Our organization believes that the players' safety in hockey has become a major concern, and that this situation has reached a point of urgency. At risk are some of the greatest professional athletes in the world, our fan base and the health of our sport at all levels. Players' safety in hockey must become the ultimate priority and the situation must be addressed immediately." He offered to co-ordinate a group effort among the owners to address player safety issues.

Regardless of what you think about the Chara-Pacioretty hit and the absence of a suspension, the fact is the league has a big problem with optics right now.

Bettman made it worse with his performance Thursday.

Molson, the rookie, gave a little hope something positive might happen with his.


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