by PuckStopsHere on 09/22/12 at 01:44 PM ET
A large part of the lockout battle is fought in the court of public relations. The NHL wants to keep casual fans who will spend some money on the league on their side so that they will continue to spend money when hockey returns. It is important that this lockout is not seen as a cash grab by the NHL but more a case of reigning in the salaries of greedy players or at least as a dead heat where both sides are equally guilty. A big part of that comes in making sure that all of the people speaking on behalf of the NHL stick to their talking points and do not go off message. The players cannot keep that level of public unity, so it gives the NHL an advantage as the lockout wears on.
George Malik has done a very good job of documenting a leak in the public front of the NHL. Detroit Red Wing senior vice president Jimmy Devellano gave an interview to Scott Harrigan of Island Sports News in Victoria BC. In that interview he largely gave the NHL's side of the lockout argument but he did not stay on message. At one point he said that the owners basically view the players and other team employees as cattle grazing at their trough and the owners won't let them push them around. That was a negative message for the NHL to be making. It is likely true and it was being done in a somewhat obscure location far removed from Detroit where Devellano is affiliated but nevertheless it could not be allowed. As a result the Detroit Red Wings were fined - possibly as much as $250,000. These fines are what forces the NHL to have discipline in their message and not say the wrong thing in the media. The players do not have this check and cannot reasonably expect to set one up.
The result of this is we won't see any quotes from people affiliated with the NHL or management of teams that goes off message. We will see some players speaking out against the NHLPA message. This will create the impression that the NHL is more unified than the NHLPA when we do not know if that is true or not. All we know is the NHL has a system to prevent such events and the NHLPA doesn't. Will that advantage help the NHL win the lockout or the public relations war surrounding it? It just might.
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