A report from the player meetings
Apologies for not updating last night — as I’m sure you have heard, the player’s meetings were schedule to go late into the night (we were told they would break-up at 11:30 p.m. at the earliest). If you blink, you just might miss my contributions to today’s paper.
It was a surreal experience, waiting and watching as 200-plus NHLers pulled into the Westin Harbour Castle in luxury cars (and Hummers). It was the first time in a long time that this many players have all gathered together, and while the proceedings were very business-like, you got a sense of excitement from the guys. For the young players especially, you can tell they’re glad they can finally (almost) go back to being hockey players again (and who can blame them, considering the cause de célébrité their arrival brought for the throng yesterday).
For the most part, the collected media ‘buzz’ was centred on questions about beleaguered union head Bob Goodenow. As Spector has stated recently, the discord among some players is a major story lately, and some reporters were no doubt sniffing for a hint of that among those brave enough to enter the press gauntlet.
Almost uniformly, and certainly from the guys I talked to, no one had anything bad to say about Bob Goodenow. I was surprised, however, how candid Kris Draper was when he said he expected the meeting to be less than amicable. With this many players gathered, he reasoned, there are going to be more than a few who are upset with the deal on the table.
“There's going to be some hard feelings among the players, it's inevitable,” Draper said. “We just lost a year of hockey and that's doesn't sit well with anyone. Tempers are probably going to come into things in [the meeting room].
"You know, we did a lot of damage to our sport. And a lot of us are coming here for answers. Hopefully we're going to get them. But it's like in hockey, you know, we'll keep [what's said] in the room.”
Considering how ‘out there’ in the press everything has been to this point during the lockout, that may be no easy task. That said, whether it was a concerted effort on their part or due to their peers, the players who have been critical of Goodenow and the new deal were nowhere to be found (aside from a brief appearance by Tie Domi).
Everyone asked said that they will support the deal, but the speculated odds as to the vote are in the range of 70 per cent in favour. For whatever reason, on this day, the disenchanted 30 per cent were kept mum, perhaps in anticipation for the night’s debates. Oh to be a fly on the wall for those.
- ESPN freelancer Scott Burnside made the trek to Toronto for the meetings, and in his piece today, he says the union will have to fire Goodenow in order to carry on successfully. I don’t know that I necessarily agree with him, but Burnside has been one of the best writers over the past year and he makes another cogent argument here.
- The Star’s Ken Campbell was a busy bee yesterday in the hotel lobby, and he was one of the few that found a player (Andrew Ference) to dissent from the majority opinion. He still, however supports his union head.
“I'm not happy with losing a year and I think we made a horrible decision and it was just a totally wrong way to go about things right from the start,” said Ference. “Planning to lose two years and having that as your plan, that just wasn't a very good strategy as far as I'm concerned. I have a real issue with that and I'm definitely not jumping for joy over the job that (Goodenow) did, but I'm not mad about the CBA either. I think it has the potential to be a great CBA.”
- My buddy at the Post, Mike Traikos, mined a nice comment from Carolina forward Jeff O’Neill:
"At the beginning, guys were 'rah, rah, we're in this together, we're going to stick it out,' " said O'Neill. "Then all of a sudden, months later the same guys are complaining about being brainwashed . . . We're all grown men and we all knew what we were up against."
- On a related note, condolences to the O’Neill family as Jeff’s older brother Donny was killed in a single-car accident outside of Toronto this morning.
The talk is that the players will have concluded voting by around 2 p.m. today, so we'll know for sure how the vote was split by then. I will not, however, be in attendance, as it's back to the news desk for me. After all, yesterday was supposed to be my day off.
- Update. The Associated Press reporter, who must be staying in the hotel with the players, wrote that the meetings broke up at 1 a.m. yesterday and then resumed at 8:30 a.m. this morning. How's that for dedication?