THE NHL : Awards Committee Has Its Work Cut Out
Was there a bigger joke than the Baseball Writers Association of America selecting its individual award winners despite an aborted season?
Sure there was. It was Major League Baseball allowing teams to sign players to multi-zillion dollar contracts, make big trades and hire and fire managers.
That’s the rub. Baseball, facing ruin, fiddles like Nero and conducts business as usual while its industry burns. The players went on strike. The owners shut down the sport. And what’s the response? Heck, let’s stage our announcements for MVP, Cy Young and top manager.
We don’t know any of the five among the 224 who either refused to submit a ballot or submitted a blank one in protest. But we know their names: Mr. and Ms. Integrity.
Tom Pedulla, longtime Yankees writer from the Gannett Suburban Newspapers, one of the five, publicly called the balloting “a sham.” Bingo! We have a winner.
Pedulla’s rationale is precisely why we’ve decided to go along with voting for the NHL postseason awards. Pedulla argued that the season was never finished, so how can you honor someone when no one crossed the finish line?
In talking to a number of people around the NHL, quite frankly, we’ve been a little uncomfortable with the way many have been quick to try to bury all vestiges of the 103-day lockout. It’s as if that cute little “Game On” slogan -- taken from the street hockey scene in “Wayne’s World” -- puts a Hollywood finale on an ugly labor situation.
Of course, league and team officials want the trophies awarded. And if you let the Madison Avenue side of the sport have its way, Don Cherry and Terry Bradshaw would be picking the trophies and they’d all have corporate sponsorship. The Stanley Cup might end up as the Ty-D-Bol.
Like the writers or not, they lend a more impartial view. And believe it or not, many care deeply about the integrity of the game. Ironically, there are some in ivory-tower journalistic circles who feel sports writers should not vote because they become part of the process they have been assigned to cover. But that is an argument for another day.
Before the season, Detroit’s Paul Coffey, a former Norris Trophy winner, said: “Maybe they should gas the whole thing.” He had concerns. So do we. But not enough to eliminate the awards.
Why should there be NHL trophies and not baseball awards? Simply, a 48-game schedule is long enough to be viable. There is a start and a conclusion. Scorers, defenders and goalies will have played the hardest games and the easiest, the ones that don’t mean diddly and the ones that mean everything.
“Comparing the baseball and hockey situation is comparing apples and oranges,” said Hartford Whalers radio announcer Chuck Kaiton, who is president of the NHL Broadcasters Association, which selects coach of the year. “I talked to two-thirds of our membership and nobody objected to the vote.”
Kaiton said he has no problem with the announcers voting for the entire league, though there are no interconference games. He says announcers talk to each other and watch enough TV games to make an intelligent choice.
We do have problems. In fact, we’d send in a blank ballot rather than vote for those in the Western Conference. The Whalers play no games against it and with so many games in so few nights, there is little time and access to see the other side of the NHL play.
“I don’t think it’s really fair either,” said Professional Hockey Writers’ Association immediate past president Scott Morrison of the Toronto Sun. “If Al MacInnis travels 30,000 miles and Brian Leetch never steps off a bus all season, it’s a factor that should be considered. Having said that, I believe if a blue-ribbon committee is put together, it would come up with good choices.”
And that committee is the best answer for a difficult situation. It’s also one the NHL is believed to be pursuing. Picking a winner from each conference for each trophy leaves us cold. It’s diluting the prestigious awards. So, get a group of select national writers, broadcasters and general managers who have seen everybody play and let them go over the voting from each conference and pick the winners.
“As a one-time thing, it makes sense,” NHL executive vice president Brian Burke said. “We respect the role the media plays in the process, but they won’t see half the league consistently and it becomes a hit-and-miss on what they can see on TV.”
Wayne Gretzky has long since dropped Gus Badali as his agent. But with the Great One hitting 34 Thursday, Badali harkened to the late 1970s and why he wanted a skinny teen-ager to sign with the World Hockey Association. “I felt he was going to get killed playing junior and end up with nothing,” Badali said. “He would have gotten murdered. I saw him play that year and he was a slight kid. The Hamilton Fincups had six guys who should have been put in jail the way they played the game. At least if we got him signed and he didn’t pan out, he still could go to school later.”
That first contract Gretzky signed was for $875,000 over four years. He makes $650,000 every two weeks with the LA Kings on his NHL-high, $8.366 million salary. In case you missed it, the skinny kid panned out.
Detroit center Sergei Fedorov -- the MVP last season -- was kicking at the barn door to get back on the ice. He was suspended for the first three games of the regular season for hacking San Jose’s Jayson More in the playoffs. “Back in business, finally,” Fedorov said. “It’s been a long time. These three games, they seemed longer than the lockout.”
Asked if he regretted his baseball-like swing at More, Fedorov didn’t say he was sorry. “I don’t know,” Fedorov said. “I’d rather not say, but I guess no. It’s part of the game. You can only take so much abuse. I had to do something. Maybe that wasn’t the best decision, but hockey is an intense game and I didn’t control myself like normal.” The four-game suspension actually was reduced to three because of the 48-game season. Fedorov may still be perfecting his English, but he knows his math. His suspension prorated to 2.3 games and he wanted to know why it was rounded up to three and not down to two.
Fedorov and Gretzky have become friends through agent Mike Barnett, and speaking of Hart Trophy-type buddies: when Gretzky’s pal, Mark Messier, finally agreed to a deal with the Rangers he was laughing and crying with joy at the press conference. But it was a compromise of sorts. His contract jumped from $2.682 and $2.75 million to about $6 million the next two years, but the Rangers have the option on 1996-97. There appears no way Messier, who’d be 36 in 1997, would be worth $6 million at that point. ...
Hart Trophy note: If no goalie has been good enough to win the MVP since Jacques Plante in 1962, why have goalies won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP 10 times since the award was instituted in ’65? Maybe Richer was right
Were you shocked only 66 of 580 players -- 11.4 percent -- voted against ratifying the collective bargaining agreement? We can only conclude that either a handful of union yellers and screamers spread a lot of rancor or the Devils’ Stephane Richer was right -- all the players want to do is have some fun playing hockey ...
The 1994 draftee facing the most pressure is goalie Jamie Storr of the Kings. Kelly Hrudey injured his right knee. Robb Stauber broke his finger. Suddenly, Storr is the No. 1 goalie. ...
Former Whaler Murray Craven has found himself in one of the worst jams any collective bargaining agreement could produce. A free agent from the Canucks, Craven waited all summer and through the lockout for final word if he is Group II (subject to draft-pick compensation) or Group V (unrestricted free agent). The hangup, subject to a final arbitrator’s ruling, is the NHL claimed the average salary is $576,000. The NHL Players Association says it is $557,000. A player with 10 years’ service and under the league average can be a Group V. Craven made $570,000 last year. Craven accepts his medicine while sitting in Medicine Hat, Alberta.
Speaking of bitter pills, crowd of 20,282 jammed beautiful, new Kiel Center ($173 million worth of new and beautiful) for the St. Louis Blues’ first game, a 3-1 victory over the LA Kings Thursday. “This isn’t the Sudbury Arena,” kidded rookie Kings GM Sam McMaster, fresh out of Sudbury, Ontario. One guy who wasn’t joking, however, was Enfield’s Craig Janney. Benched late in a game in Calgary by Mike Keenan, Iron Mike did not dress the Blues’ No. 1 center for the grand Kiel opener. Do you think the Jan Man needs a therapy session with former Keenan patient Leetch?
It’s a team effort and isn’t it interesting the struggling Stanley Cup champion Rangers are looking to acquire role players after losing Craig MacTavish, Esa Tikkanen and Mike Hudson? The Penguins never really replaced Bob Errey, Phil Bourque and Troy Loney after their Cup seasons. These guys aren’t THE difference, but they are A difference. ...
The Calgary Flames fans booed MacInnis in his first return to the Saddledome with the Blues. That’s ridiculous. The Mighty Ducks fans booed Disney chief Michael Eisner when he came out on the ice to welcome back NHL fans to The Pond. That’s funny. At least they didn’t boo Mickey Mouse.
Chicago goalie Ed Belfour had an interesting little run-in with coach Darryl Sutter the other morning. Sutter ripped into Belfour for coming on the ice late for practice. Belfour skated down the other end, in front of the goal, and simply let the pucks hit him without moving. One cranked him in the mask and he never moved. Then he skated off the ice. Belfour said he was late because he was getting his groin muscle taped. Observed teammate Jeremy Roenick: “He probably felt he didn’t need to practice.” With Edmonton getting one shot on Belfour in the second period of a 5-1 Blackhawks victory, maybe he was right. ...
In 1981, Minnesota GM Lou Nanne made Brian Lawton the No. 1 pick in the entry draft. Today, both are agents. Nanne sold his condo in West Palm Beach, Fla. to New Jersey’s Tom Chorske on the condition he had to be his agent. ...
Rick Dudley, coach of the IHL’s Detroit Vipers, runs the team from up in the press box. Assistant Mark Hardy runs the bench. “It’s better to coach from up there,” Dudley insisted. It’s also harder to throw water bottles at officials in case he loses it again ...
You’ve got to like Ike after this calamity, or at least feel for him. Former Whalers Yvon “Ike” Corriveau is back playing with the Minnesota Moose with three plates and 10 screws in his face after running into the helmet of Jason Ruff.