WINNIPEG - Maybe the governors of the Winnipeg Jets were told to go sit at the kids’ table while the big boys talk.
Maybe it never happened.
Regardless of whether anyone reprimanded a Jets governor for allegedly voicing moderate opposition to the lockout, it’s obvious the NHL’s newest team has little say in the current labour negotiations.
A report out of Boston Wednesday, by Bruins insider Joe Haggerty of Comcast Sportsnet New England, said Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs admonished a Jets governor, not principal owner Mark Chipman, in a recent meeting for saying the franchise “was opposed to engaging in a long, bloody lockout sure to stymie their franchise’s momentum and hurt the game of hockey.”
At that point Jacobs, considered one of the owners’ driving forces behind the lockout, “answered by reprimanding the Winnipeg representative as one of the ‘new kids on the block’ and informed him that he would know when he was allowed to speak in the NHL boardroom.”
The reaction was fast and furious from an NHL ownership group that is quick to crush any suggestion of dissent in the ranks.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly, said this: “Total fantasy. Didn’t happen.”
Another independent source who was in the meeting concurred.
Then the most unusual thing happened: Chipman, who hasn’t said a word under a league-wide gag order on owners during the lockout, put out a statement.
“I was disappointed to learn today of a report which claimed an exchange took place between an alternate governor of the Winnipeg Jets and Jeremy Jacobs of the Boston Bruins at a recent NHL Board of Governors meeting. I was present throughout all BOG proceedings and can categorically state that no such exchange between Mr. Jacobs and either one of our alternate governors — Patrick Phillips or Kevin Cheveldayoff — ever took place. Any suggestion otherwise is completely false.”
Like I said, maybe it didn’t happen, but the NHL’s urgency to nip it in the bud is certainly curious.
You get the feeling the Jets are having their strings pulled on this one, just as they have been told in not so many words to stay in the background of lockout talks.
Those who follow the situation closely know the NHL governors are ruled by commissioner Gary Bettman and a couple of heavyweights, most notably Jacobs, and they are the ones who are pushing the lockout agenda.
The moderate voices and even the moderately dissenting ones might as well be lepers.
Heaven forbid anyone express a concern that this asinine lockout might be affecting some franchises adversely.
If the Winnipeg Jets governors, just a year removed from spending $170 million (including a $60 million relocation fee that went to the other owners), have reservations about a lockout killing their momentum and potentially setting them on a path to ruin, they better damn well keep it to themselves.
At least that’s how the old boys on the NHL Board of Bullies would have it.
By most accounts, the Jets governors have been nothing but good partners, quietly going along with a lockout that must have them seething on the inside (note Wednesday’s “all-is-rosy” press statement). The long-term ramifications of a favourable Collective Bargaining Agreement would be to their benefit, no doubt, but the timing is atrocious.
They would have every right to speak out about the pitfalls of a labour war coming just a year after they finally got a chance to purchase a team and move it to Winnipeg.
This is a new NHL member that spent years playing by Bettman’s rules in order to pony up millions to rescue a doomed franchise and move it to a market with a chance of success.
True North deserves to have a say.
The Jets were extremely successful in their return to Winnipeg, selling out every game and becoming a top revenue generator in terms of merchandise.
When Forbes released its NHL franchise values report Wednesday, it pegged the Jets at about $200 million, which is 22% more than what the team was worth in Atlanta.
Despite that, Jets ownership has been forced to go along with the rest of the league in a lockout that is hurting their momentum and putting a sour taste back into the mouths of fans who went 15 years without a team before the Jets finally returned last season.
This is a market that has endured too much suffering because of the NHL. Now, just when the tide has turned and pain is being replaced by euphoria, something else comes along to beat the hockey fans back down again.
No doubt the Jets and their fans are not bigger than the game and that’s why you can be sure Chipman continues to play by the rules.