TORONTO - Three years ago, after polling their players, Paul Kelly and Glenn Healy spoke to the general managers in the National Hockey League and made an impassioned plea for the elimination of head shots in hockey.
The reaction of the GMs, Healy remembers? “Silence.”
“I could feel the knives in my back as I was walking out of the room, everybody staring at you,” said Healy, who was then Kelly’s assistant with the NHL Players’ Association.
“The response was that there was no response. We knew we were working in a hostile environment.”
He didn’t know that just about everything they proposed would be the centre of so much controversy three years later. Kelly has since been fired, Healy is back on television and the problems of hockey are at a crisis point once again.
“I look back and think — ‘We were heading down the right path.’ But it was clear to me that the GMs didn’t want to hear it from us and didn’t trust the referees to make instinctual calls at full speed.”
The Players’ Association was proposing a graduated penalty for head shots, focussing on vulnerable players.
The GMs are meeting in Florida starting Monday: Among the topics three years later, head shots in hockey.
This and that
So we wonder: Was the business department of Air Canada aware that a statement was being circulated questioning the state of affairs in the NHL? Because, if it was, how does it justify the possibility of losing the $30 million or more business it does by chartering more than 10 NHL teams, flying league head-office people, or its deal with the Players’ Association? Can’t wait for the next Maple Leafs’ game at the Westjet or Porter Centre? ... And did anybody tell Air Canada that Maple Leafs Sports would be thrilled if they relinquished their sponsorship of the ACC. Estimates are Leafs could sell the building name for two or three times what Air Canada currently pays ... This is how enraging the Zdeno Chara hit has been throughout hockey: Even Jacques Martin is offering opinions ... An NHL voice very familiar with the Bell Centre says that Montreal players regularly avoid skating anywhere near the open stanchions and he wonders why Max Pacioretty didn’t follow suit. Before you go off half cocked about blaming the victim, the same voice blames Chara for the Pacioretty injury, but still thought it was a strange time and strange place for a player to be brave ... The more James Reimer plays every game for the Leafs, the less perfect he looks in goal. Yes, he has done a terrific job in providing hope for the Leafs but there is some reason for doubt of late, primarily with his propensity for letting in weak goals and exposing a soft glove hand that NHL teams are now learning about.
Hear and there
Apparently, Don Fehr has gone into the comedy business. How else to explain the release post-Chara hit by the NHLPA, which begins with: “Player safety has always been, and continues to be, of great concern to the Players’ Association.” I read the first sentence and laughed out loud. Maybe Fehr needs to spend even more time studying the history of the organization he now runs ... When asked their reaction to the Chara-hit, the Miami Heat cried ... The perceived conflict of interest for NHL vice-president Colin Campbell will not go away. It is not just that his son, Gregory, plays for Boston Bruins. But that every decision made regarding the Bruins or teams they compete with, come into question. And even if he excuses himself from decisions, those decisions are being made by close friends and colleagues who may not think they are being influenced, but it’s difficult in close working situations not to be ... Just wondering: If Mike Murphy suspends Chara for three games (even if he didn’t want to) would all the noise have followed? Or was the Pacioretty injury so troubling the noise would have been there under any penalty? ... The Calgary Flames better hope they don’t finish tied for eighth in the Western Conference playoffs. If they do, they lose out on the first tie-breaker, because they’ve won too many shootout games.
Scene and heard
If the Phoenix Coyotes move to Winnipeg, they’d better take Ilya Bryzgalov with them. With Bryzgalov in goal, they’re a playoff team. Without him, they’re just another also-ran ... There is something amusing about the Montreal Canadiens claiming to be getting the shaft from the NHL. For years, with the head office in Montreal, everybody in hockey figured the Canadiens ran the league ... When asked what day it was, Peter Laviolette first refused comment and then went on to deny it was Thursday ... Things must be looking up for the Philly Flyers. Chris Pronger is arguing with his teammates. Last year, it was Mike Richards. This year, Claude Giroux. Must be a time for a playoff run ... The way baseball people are talking about Brett Lawrie, this soon with the Blue Jays, has to get people excited ... The Justin Morneau story needs to be relayed to all hockey people. Baseball is not a contact sport. Morneau was concussed in a collision with John McDonald of the Blue Jays. That was eight months ago and it was a singular collission and Morneau is just gingerly taking swings, not yet ready for full-time action with the Minnesota Twins. Which makes you wonder: When will we next see Sidney Crosby play?
And another thing
Anyone who associated with Kevin O’Neill during his time coaching the Raptors can’t be surprised by his suspension at USC for a bar-room altercation. It’s too bad really. There is something terribly likable about O’Neill yet something terribly flawed ... Stumpy’s kid, Christian Thomas, has now scored 52 goals for the Oshawa Generals, which is one more than daddy managed in his best year as a Marlie ... Maybe Bryan Colangelo was right. Maybe last year’s Raptors team, with Reggie Evans healthy, was a 50-win team. They won 40 without Evans, and you see now what a difference maker he can be ... Josh Bailey doesn’t have any numbers with the New York Islanders — but every game I watch him, he does something to impress ... It hasn’t exactly worked, short term, for Tomas Kaberle in Boston. The Bruins are 2 for 28 on the power play in the 10 games he’s been in Boston ... Conversely, the Washington Capitals haven’t lost since Jason Arnott and Dennis Wideman arrived ... Because everything seems better back in the day, it’s hard to imagine Erik Guay with more World Cup ski medals than Ken Read. But it’s true. Guay won’t catch Steve Podborski but his passing of Read was enormous and a Canadian milestone ... If Milos Raonic continues on his way at Indian Wells, he will have a fourth-round meeting with this guy named Roger Federer .... Happy birthday to Blaine Stoughton (58), Johan Santana (32), Joe Bugner (61), Barry Pederson (50), Dean Dorsey (54) and Will Clark (47) ... And hey, whatever became of Alpo Suhonen?
TOUGH CALL FOR THOMPSON
Brampton’s Tristan Thompson has a difficult decision to make at the end of his freshman season at the University of Texas.
The question is: does he stay in school or opt out for the NBA draft?
And the question is multi-faceted: It isn’t just about the draft or where he’ll be chosen (somewhere in the first round).
It’s about a possible NBA lockout next season. It’s about a Texas program flourishing with two Toronto-area kids and adding two more next year.
It’s about the opportunity to build something in college while working his way towards possibly becoming an NBA lottery pick.
It’s about money now or money later and so much unknown, including your health.
Few Canadians have ever been in so lofty a position before, with so many possibilities and no easy answers.
WHO IS THE HART WINNER?
There is less than a month left of the NHL regular season and rarely has the Hart Trophy race been so uncharted.
Through the first 20 games, it was Steven Stamkos’ Hart to lose. Then Sidney Crosby took over and looked like a lock through 41 games. And when his season came to an abrupt end there was no single candidate to rally around.
But in the second half, Jonathan Toews, the Olympic all-star, the Conn Smythe winner, has become a candidate of merit.
He is playing at a level beyond his playoff performance with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The question is: Is half a season enough to capture a Hart?
He will be challenged by Stamkos, the Vancouver trio of Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler, and less so by Nicklas Lidstrom in Detroit and Tim Thomas in Boston.
The race, however, is on.
TWO REASONS TO WATCH THE RAPS
In this season of absolute despair, I find myself watching the Toronto Raptors more often these days and it’s not because I enjoy train wrecks.
It has everything to do with DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis.
The team may be horrible but there is something engaging about the Raptors’ previous two first-round picks.
I don’t know if DeRozan is for real or if he’s just one of those guys who is getting scoring opportunities because he plays for a lousy team.
But I do know he’s fun to watch, he’s athletic and engaging, which on a terrible team has to mean something.
And Davis, who appears as though he is teenager in a teenager’s body, has sweet natural instincts for the game.
He’s not physically ready to dominate in any way, but the possibility for the future, for both these players, is at least intriguing.