Rant could land Watters in hot water

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

Bill Watters has planted a verbal bomb that could well end up blowing up what's left of his relationship with the Maple Leafs.

Watters, let go as assistant general manager of the Leafs two years ago, is almost certain to be removed from Leafs TV -- where his daily radio show is simulcast -- after painting the Leafs as vigilantes in the negotiating process between the National Hockey League and the NHL Players' Association.

Watters was particularly outspoken about the roles of board chairman Larry Tanenbaum and president and CEO Richard Peddie, not surprisingly, two of the people who were responsible for his demise with the hockey club.

What has particularly infuriated the Leafs is the loud insinuation Watters has made that by trying to negotiate a deal to end the NHL lockout in December, they were somehow blind-siding their partners and the players in the process.

In his radio rants -- and he has been applauded for being outspoken elsewhere -- Watters failed to mention many of the pertinent facts surrounding the meeting that Tanenbaum hosted, which involved Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux and Leafs player Tie Domi -- a meeting which put in place the very sliding salary scale with linkage that the NHLPA is now using as its basis of negotiation.

What Watters has failed to report -- either by choice or lack of information -- is who else happened to be present and accounted for when Tanenbaum, Lemieux and Domi presented a framework which should have ended the lockout five months ago and ensured the playing of an NHL season.

This was no blind side. This was open and apparent.

Bill Daly, the chief negotiator for the NHL, reconfirmed yesterday that he was at Tanenbaum's Toronto home that December night. Also present was Ted Saskin, the chief negotiator for the players' side and NHLPA president Trevor Linden.

Aware of the meeting -- both in content and context -- were Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow, the head of the league and the head of the union.

Only Watters never bothered to mention that part.

He has made it sound as though the Leafs were playing the part of cowboy and trying to work independently. And because he can argue with such authority and certainty, those listening to Leafs Lunch on AM 640 or watching on Leafs TV take what he is saying as fact when clearly, in this case, his facts and his thesis are shaky.

"That meeting did not undermine the process," Daly insisted yesterday. "It was done with full knowledge and disclosure on both sides."

Tanenbaum, when reached prior to leaving the country yesterday, called the reporting "irresponsible" but would not elaborate on anything else.

The concepts agreed upon in that December meeting were initially dismissed by Goodenow, who wanted no part of any salary cap or any kind of linkage arrangement. He has since altered his view on both issues -- and has adopted much of what Tanenbaum, Lemieux and Domi agreed to.

On radio and television, Watters also insisted that the now controversial speech that Tanenbaum read from at the NHL's board of governors meeting in March, which was reacted to with such vitriol from other owners, was written for him by Peddie. This, too, is not accurate, according to a variety of sources.

The speech was representative of the feelings of the board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. and was written collectively by that board. In Tuesday's Globe and Mail, Leafs TV boss John Shannon said he had no problem with Watters speaking his mind on their television station and rather welcomed it.

He may be reconsidering that view when he next hears from his bosses.


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