September 21, 2007
Hotchkiss happy where NHL is nowThe Flames' co-owner gets credit for helping settle the lockout.
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media
One of the first things Harley Hotchkiss will tell you is that he loves hockey, really loves hockey.
That pretty much explains why he's given a big part of his later life in working to save hockey not only in Calgary, but as a key element in helping to end the National Hockey League lockout two years ago.
Hotchkiss as a part-owner of the Calgary Flames, helped bring the team to Calgary. He was also chair of the NHL board of governors for 12 years.
If you're looking for hockey insight, Hotchkiss has it, much of it from the inside, the place the average Joe rarely sees.
Hotchkiss will be speaking to the Canadian Club of London Tuesday as part of its speaker series.
"I don't do this a lot, so I was kind of surprised when (they) called me," Hotchkiss said from Calgary. "But I was happy to do it. We grew up south of Tillsonburg. I went to high school in Tillsonburg. My wife trained at Victoria Hospital. My daughter went to Western and I have a son John that lives in Aylmer."
Hotchkiss is one of the most respected members in the NHL ownership group. A member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, he and his co-owners worked tirelessly to keep the Flames in Calgary through difficult times. As the NHL lockout dragged on, many hockey players credit Hotchkiss with easing the tensions and getting negotiations on track.
"It makes me feel good," said Hotchkiss. "I don't hear that a lot. I do care about the game and I care about the people who play it."
The Flames won a Stanley Cup and made the final one other year. But this was a team that had seen hard times.
"There were terrible times in Calgary to be blunt about it," said Hotchkiss. "When we brought the team from Atlanta in 1980, we had some wonderful years.
"It got progressively worse and we didn't think we could survive. Some of our ownership group didn't think we could survive and left. We had to buy out two of them at what was the worst time possible financially."
That's part of the story Hotchkiss will tell.
While the story about the lockout has been told, Hotchkiss believes it's important that no one forgets what happened and why.
"This will sound strange but it wasn't about money," said Hotchkiss. "We didn't think we were going to get rich running a hockey team. But there were two things we didn't want. We didn't want to start losing money on a consistent and regular basis and you didn't want to do that in the face of not having a reasonable chance at winning with a competitive team.
"As much as we love the game and care about the community and all of those things, who wants to continue losing four, five million a year and not have a competitive team?"
Hotchkiss is happy with the most part with where the game is right now.
"The business side is solid. Our relationship with our players is strong," said Hotchkiss. "I think the game is better. The (rule) changes made through the competition committee . . . it was one of the good things of the lockout."
He knows the NHL needs to rebuild its television rating in the United States and he admits it's a battle keeping all the franchises healthy.
What's most important is that the NHL never go through another strike or lockout.
"I believe we can continue to have a relationship that appreciates players have to bargain hard when it's appropriate," said Hotchkiss. "They have to appreciate that we have to have a business that makes sense."
Hotchkiss' non-hockey resume is as impressive as his hockey one. He manages his own oil, gas, agricultural and real estate companies. His work with charitable and fundraising organizations in Calgary is impressive.
Hotchkiss believes hockey is a big part of what communities are all about.
"Hockey is an important factor in this country," he said. "It's one of thing that holds us together at times. It cuts across boundaries . . . east/west, French/English, rural/urban. It gives us as Canadians something to enjoy and feel good about."
IF YOU GO
Who: Harley Hotchkiss, part owner and governor of the Calgary Flames
When: Tuesday, noon
Where: Hilton Hotel
Tickets: Call 471-6369; online at www.canadiancluboflondon.com or at the door