You ever hear the saying "the devil's in the details"? The Greater Toronto Hockey League's proclamation this past week that they would terminate the membership of Stuart Hyman's hockey clubs if he doesn't obey bylaw 3.18 and voluntarily break up his minor hockey empire is no doubt the talk in the hallways and rinksides in Toronto's arenas this morning. Don't worry about anything, the league is saying. Focus on the playoffs. Watch your kids play hockey. This is a legal matter, let the lawyers handle it.
Easier said than done. If the mediation session with Judge Warren Winkler this Tuesday morning leads to squat, and two sides deeply entrenched in their points of view take this to court in a lawsuit that will easily hit six figures in legal costs, several truck loads of kids are going to be wondering where they'll be skating next year.
They're already wondering. It makes you think about how many kids and the parents who shuttle them to games and practices will simply quit hockey because they're being forced to play in a new organization farther away from home, farther away from the organizations they've grown up playing for.
How many times have you heard people on both sides say they're in it for the kids. The kids? Really? How many kids' leagues do you know that would require a mediator of Winkler's stature to come in and machete his way through a mess like this.
We're not talking about Judge Judy here. This is the same guy who took on both sides in a bitter labour dispute during the restructuring of Air Canada in 2004 with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake and managed to put Humpty back together again.
Let's face it, both sides need lessons on how to better communicate. The league has come out and said nothing since Monday explaining how they would relocate those 1,000 or so kids who will be displaced if Hyman's teams are taken away. Not to mention the hundreds of coaches and parent volunteers, people who have put in thousands of dollars and countless hours developing programs.
The GTHL says there are a number of ways to take care of those players who might find themselves with no place to play if the Jan. 21 deadline passes and the league goes forward with its threat to terminate the membership of the Toronto Aeros, Weston Hawks, Scarborough Stallions, Leaside Kings and Toronto Penguins. Those termination plans would then be finalized April 15.
But the league is waiting on explaining those contingency plans until all hope for a compromise passes with Hyman refusing to back down.
Hyman did a poor job communicating to the people in his organizations and the league about his philosophies for running those organizations and the reasons registration fees and team budgets went up so high, plus the other costs teams and parents were dinged with below the surface.
Subsidizing lower income kids who can't afford to play the game is all well and good, said a parent this past week, just don't do it with my money. Or at least explain it to me a little better.
As a news blackout sweeps down and both sides prepare for their session with Judge Winkler, a few things are becoming apparent. The focus is now less on Hyman and his hockey empire than ever before. The GTHL's blind eye to the goings on of its member organizations has left them wide open to criticism about the state of their governance.
In fact, if there's any good to come out of this, ironically, with all the debate about Hyman's businesslike, money-making approach to his empire, and his price-gouging, the largest amateur hockey league in the world should come out of all this more buttoned-down than before in dealing with its member clubs.
Enough bravado. Negotiate this thing, find a compromise, get this thing done. There are no doubt more skeletons on both sides that best be kept in the closet. Go before the courts and who knows what else will float to the surface.