The Malik Report
by George Malik on 09/24/12 at 04:30 AM ET
The Red Wings' locked-out players will take part in their first informal practice in Troy today, and many of you will be skating in their place at Joe Louis Arena over the next three days, which seems strange...But this lockout has been nothing if not full of "weirdness."
Just as it feels like we've been at this for much longer than eight days, for me, it feels like much longer than four since Red Wings VP Jimmy Devellano made those incendiary comments to the Island News's Scott Harrigan, and all that followed hit the fan...
And as you might expect, we're still talking about Devellano's comments this morning. The Globe and Mail's David Shoalts believes that Devellano's comments essentially boiled down to "taking one for the team" by deflecting some pressure away from Gary Bettman...
By issuing a $250,000 (all currency U.S.) fine to Detroit Red Wings vice-president Jim Devellano for referring to the players and other league employees as “cattle” in an interview, Bettman sent both messages. To the fans, he said figuratively that he is a just and even-handed authority of the league, willing to dispense punishment to anyone on his side of the fence if they take a shot at the players. Thus, the implication went, you can trust me when I say we are locking out the players for the good of the game.
To the owners, team executives and other management types, Bettman reinforced a much stronger message – keep your mouth shut. The commissioner hates seeing touchy league business discussed in public by the owners and their executives. He routinely fines those who comment on issues he wants kept behind closed doors. During the lockout, the gag order is official, which is why the Red Wings paid the price for Devellano speaking what almost all on the management side see as the truth – that players are cattle who eat at the pleasure of the owners in their guise as ranchers. He also noted the Philadelphia Flyers violated an unwritten rule among owners by tendering an offer sheet to restricted free agent Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators.
However, Devellano’s comments came at an opportune time for Bettman. He and the owners are not faring well in the public relations war this time out. In 2004-05, it was obvious a lot of NHL teams were in serious financial trouble so it was easy to paint the players as overpaid fat cats unwilling to save the league by agreeing to accept a salary cap. Seven years later, it is just as easy for the players to point out the owners got their new system, were happily handing out hundred-million-dollar contracts one day and then pleading poverty the next.
Bettman needs to build at least some trust with the fans. Giving the appearance of coming down hard on one of his own will not hurt in that regard.
No one should feel too badly for the Red Wings. Chances are that $250,000 may never make its way to the league office.
The Wings have more at stake in the lockout than the average team. They will play host to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 but it could be cancelled by the lockout. While this is a league event and it pays most of the several million dollars in preparation costs, a cancellation would cost the Wings an enormous amount of goodwill with their fans even if the game is simply rescheduled for a year later. Bettman is hardly likely to dun the Wings for a fine, especially if this labour dispute wipes out their outdoor game.
In the meantime, labour talks remain stalled in the absence of any true incentives to get a new collective agreement, such as missed paydays and gate receipts. Expect an announcement this week that the rest of the NHL’s preseason games are cancelled but a sense of urgency probably won’t arrive until at least Oct. 6 when regular-season games start to be missed.
That's all but certain, and the Globe and Mail's Bruce Dowbiggin agrees with Shoalts' assessment...
Detroit Red Wings executive Jim Devellano said the league is a ranch where the owners allow the cattle to eat and sleep at the bosses’ sufferance. “That’s the way it’s always been and that the way it will be forever,” Devellano told Island Sports News. “And the owners simply aren’t going to let a union push them around.”
Devellano is right. The NHL is a frozen autocracy. No matter. Only the commissioner and deputy commissioner are permitted public comment. For their part, player advocates are bragging that their side is allowed to extemporize at will. Free speech and all that.
But commissioner Gary Bettman’s most nimble manoeuvre in the 2004-05 lockout was herding the cats in his ownership. When it appeared the owners’ solidarity was being strained in January of 2005, Bettman simply cancelled a board of governors meeting. Case closed. So while Devellano’s free-speech rights may seem trampled, the end will justify the means for the NHL’s purposes.
And if you're willing to get overtly political--and I try to avoid that whenever possible--the National Post's Bruce Arthur invoked a certain politician's remarks caught on hidden camera before concluding that Devellano's remarks, and those of Edmonton Oilers owner Darryl Katz, who's all but demanding public subsidies for his arena plan, lest he relocate the team, have yielded perhaps the proper estimation of the owners' intentions in the court of public opinion:
In a lockout where both sides must accept some of the blame for what has happened, and for what is coming, the NHL stopped just short of donning a twirling moustache and a cape, and tying a lady to the railroad tracks.
Even the Denver Post's Terry Frei weighed in on the subject...
Bettman long has been the lightning rod, and not just during lockouts. The Detroit Red Wings on Saturday were fined for remarks made by vice president Jim Devellano, who called the players "cattle" and said they should just accept 43 percent of the take. That was exceptional because both this year and in previous lockouts, Bettman and the league office have all but gagged team owners and officials, allowing the league to do all the talking ... at least publicly. That includes, of course, Kroenke Sports here in Denver, which owns the Pepsi Center too, and could be left with 41 unfilled regular-season dates if another season is scrubbed.
The strategy not only discourages inflammatory remarks coming from anywhere besides New York and allows for a public image of league solidarity, it also allows individual owners — with the possible exception of the known hard-liners — to dodge accountability. They can remain silent and leave us to infer: Blame Gary and the Hard-liners.
But perhaps the greatest disconnect from reality for me involves something my search engine monkeys dug up for me this morning: a statement Ian White made to the Steinbach News's Kevin Geisheimer, just before he headed to Detroit...
The Red Wings are White's fifth stop in his NHL career. White played four and half seasons in Toronto before being moved to the Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, San Jose Sharks and then Detroit over the past two and half years. White says he feels at home in Detroit and hopes it will be his last destination.
“It's fabulous, it's been the best stop on my hockey journey. The organization, from the ownership right on down to management, to even the staff, everyone is a class act and treats you like an adult. It's been a lot of fun and hopefully I have many more years there.”
Or, if you don't mind some roughtly-translated Swedish, what Niklas Kronwall had to say about the situation to Expressen's Linus Hugosson yesterday morning:
You Red Wings players almost always speak warmly and full of admiration in your voices for your owners, the Ilitch family. Now you sit on the opposite side in a conflict that may become bitter and long--how does it feel?
"Yes, it's a little strange to be against them," said Kronwall. "But it's a fact that the Red Wings are one of 30 teams and are one of 30 owners, so right now they are on the other side."
"But we have the deepest respect for them and all that they have done for us. We've had a remarkably good owner."
I wasn't in the mood to offer some irony regarding idiomatic expressions, so I have to admit that I utilized "remarkably" instead of the literal translation of what Kronwall said, because it would have just cranked the, "Are you f***ing kidding me?" meter up to eleven--and because the idiomatic expression doesn't mean what English-speakers would think it means.
Kronwall actually told Hugosson that the Wings have a "cruelly good" owner in Mike Ilitch. In Swedish, as far as I've learned to work with the language over my six years as a Wings blogger, that's pretty similar to the more recently-appearing English terms "bad" or "sick" as used to positively describe something. The best English translation would not be the literal "cruelly," and maybe even not "remarkably good"--it'd be "unbelievably good."
And yet the Wings' players will be skating in Troy for the foreseeable future, and only the fans will be able to skate at the Joe.
Strange times. Strange times.
Regarding one of the players who will be skating in Troy today, the Swedish Eliteserien--with the exception of Modo Ornskoldsvik and the Frolunda Indians, anyway--is maintaining its ban on signing NHL players until the antitrust lawsuit brought against the Eliteserien goes to court, so Jonathan Ericsson cannot join his brother Jimmie on Skellefea AIK, but Ericsson admitted to Norran's "Lars L" (no last name given) that he is considering heading to Europe as the first wave of NHLPA exports subsides (what follows is roughly translated--and Ericsson stated from the outset that he wanted to play in Europe immediately, like Jakub Kindl, Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Tatar and the as-yet-unemployed Cory Emmerton):
"Right now I'm asking myself the question, 'where do I stand?' I have no immediate plan, but I want to play, and the Eliteserien would be a good option for me, as I want to play in a league that's as close as possible to the NHL in terms of its quality," says Ericsson, who previously announced his desire to play in Skelleftea with his brother Jimmie.
"When we talk, Jimmie says to me to come to Skelleftea if it appears I can [do so]. But we'll see what happens."
How are you training now?
"Most of us are still in Detroit. There are some who've gone home, some younger players, and on Friday Valtteri Filppula went home to Finland, but otherwise just about everybody's still here. We'll train at a rink near where many of us live."
There is no way for Jonathan to play in the AHL, and so he's beginning to think about where he's going to get to play some games.
"The Eliteserien would of course be perfect. I want to play in games soon, I'll get bored with just training quickly. I'll probably crave to play more every day," says Ericsson.
In Quebec and Eastern Ontario (i.e. Ottawa), some NHL'ers are consdering starting up a barnstorming league, so it will be interesting to see whether the Wings and locked-out NHL'ers who make their offseason homes in Detroit (like Sergei Samsonov and Shawn Horcoff) might consider the same idea.
For now, the players can only run some drills, scrimmage and then work out at the Troy Sports Center. Some of them will get tired of doing so pretty quickly, but the vast majority of the players will keep on keepin' on.
In news regarding the one North American team whose players are both part of the Red Wings' organization and are not locked out, the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins will begin training camp a week from today, on October 1st, and new Griffins coach Jeff Blashill spoke to WOOD TV on Sunday evening...
And as the Griffins' players slowly but surely filter into town from their offseason homes, via RedWingsFeed, the Free Press's George Sipple spoke to scrappy Griffins forward Mitchell Callahan about his expectations for the upcoming season as, according to Sipple, Callahan made a cross-country trek from his Whittier, California to the West side of Michigan with his dad riding shotgun until they reached Chicago (according to Callahan's Twitter account, he's made it to GR safe and sound):
Callahan (5-feet-11, 190 pounds) chipped in six goals and three assists with 103 penalty minutes in 48 games with the Griffins last season. He hopes to be trusted in more defensive situations this season and has worked to improve his speed in the off-season.
"Maybe get a few more points than I had last year," he said of personal goals.
The Wings have told Callahan, whose nicknames include Dirty Harry, that they want him to be more of an agitator this season, rather than a fighter. He had 14 fighting majors as an AHL rookie.
"It's kind of hard for me," he said. "I naturally like to fight. I've just gotta pick my spots better now."
Callahan, 21, said he's looking forward to proving himself to former Wings assistant Jeff Blashill, the Griffins' new coach.
"It's going to be exciting to have a new coach," Callahan said. "Everybody's going to want to show off to impress. When (Blashill) coached at Western Michigan, one of my really good buddies told me he's a really good coach. He loves those guys who work hard, so hopefully that can benefit me."
Also in the prospect department, via Red Wings Prospects on Twitter:
Andreas Athanasiou registered his assist in the Barrie Colts' 3-2 loss to Missisauga, and after serving a 2-game suspension, Frk's assist came in the Halifax Mooseheads' 8-1 thrashing of the--and I'm not making this up, "PEI Islanders," or Prince Edward Island Islanders.
In Europe, as noted on Sunday, CSKA Moscow formally introduced Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Bryzgalov to the media, and Jokerit Helsinki held a press conference to formally announce their signing of Valtteri Filppula to lockout contracts.
Amongst the tailings from the Datsyuk presser:
- CSKA's website did post a photo gallery from the press conference;
- According to Sovetsky Sport's Andrei Lipkin, Datsyuk will make his CSKA debut today against Avangard Omsk, and Datsyuk told Sovetsky Sport's Simon Galkevich that he hasn't watched many KHL games;
- Datsyuk told Sport-Express's Alexander Rogul that he has yet to find an apartment in Moscow, though he's spent his entire summer in his hometown of Yekaterinburg, and Rogul says that both Datsyuk and Bryzgalov were still coming to terms with being locked out;
- Datsyuk also admitted to Rogul that he's not at 100% in terms of being game-ready, but he's going to do his best today;
- R-Sport noted that Datsyuk did thank Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg for their contract offer, it noted that Datsyuk and Bryzgalov are still in shock to some extent about the lockout, and that CSKA GM and former Wing Sergei Fedorov made an exception to allow Datsyuk to wear #13 at the expense of rookie Roman Lyubimov.
There wasn't much left over from Valtteri Filppula's presser, other than Jokerit's confirmation that Filppula will skate in his first game for Jokerit on Tuesday, skating alongside his brother Ilari and former college player Stevie Moses.
In the Czech Republic, Jakub Kindl issued the following Tweet regarding an up-and-down debut for HC Pardubice (the PSOB Pojistovna part that comes between the "HC," or Hockey Club and "Pardubice" part? That's the team's main sponsor's name, the Pojistovna insurance company, so I'm going to leave that out most of the time):
And in Slovakia, Tomas Tatar registered an assist in SHK 37 Piestany's 9-5 loss to HC Kostice on Sunday. Sport.sk posted a gallery of Tatar in action, and Tatar expressed frustration about his team making mistakes in their second game in two nights to "jazva" from Hokej.sk, who reported that Tatar not only promised to play better in Piestany's next game on Tuesday, but also that Tomas Jurco (who's from Kostice) said hello to Tatar after the game. Jurco's heading to Grand Rapids on Wednesday.
Hokej.sk's photo gallery from the game includes Tatar, both teams' players and HC Kostice's cheerleaders. Very seriously: teams in Finland and Slovakia have been employing cheerleaders for the longest time of any pro hockey leagues that I know of, and Russia, the Czech Republic and other leagues have followed suit.
Despite naving no players to work with, Wings assistant coach Bill Peters, video coach Keith McKittrick, goalie coaches Jim Bedard and Chris Osgood and executive/defensive prospect mentor Chris Chelios did hold a youth hockey clinic in Traverse City as a "thank you" to the community and Centre Ice Arena, whose volunteers are hoping the same thing the rest of us are--that there will be a training camp held in Traverse City sooner than later--and Red Wings TV chronicled the youth camp's activities:
If you're interested, DetrotiRedWings.com's Andrea Nelson also penned a "dual citizenship" article on former Wing and long-time Wings nemesis Bobby Baun as part of the team's promotion of the Winter Classic;
And in perhaps an unfortunately realistic vein, the Free Press's Mike Thompson posted the following editorial cartoon abou the lockout, and given my Twitter feed over the past three days, I'd suggest to the NHL and NHLPA that this may very well summarize the sentiments of the fans who would be happily forking over $3.3 billion to both sides if the league was willing to continue operating uner the current CBA until a new one was reached:
Image courtesy of the Detroit Free Press and Mike Thompson.
I don't know about you, but I'd rather be talking about the second-to-last day of training camp today, but that's not where we are, and that stinks.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.