It's always awkward when your Uncle Al gets to talking at family gatherings. He'll open his mouth, speed right through any social filters, and give 'em all a piece of his mind. That's kind of what has happened after Red Wings exec Jimmy Devellano had a frank one-on-one about the lockout with Island Sports News in British Columbia.
As you probably know, the way the NHL ownership presents a united front -- none of us know for certain which governors and owners are being bastards right now -- is by keeping their mouths shut and letting commissioner Gary Bettman and his deputy Bill Daly do all the talking. That way, players and fans can go all Chelios on Bettman because he's the face of a bunch of owners who conduct their, uh, ranching out of the public eye.
But Devellano is approaching age 70 and at that age a person tends to tell it like it is. Or like they see it. (To be fair, Devellano has always been a straight-shooter; age has nothing to do with it here.) So Devellano, a former key Islanders scout who assisted Bill Torrey and was around for three of the four Stanley Cups, has earned the Red Wings an undisclosed but surely hefty fine from the NHL for his comments. [Update: Dreger hears it's $250,000!]
Did Devellano's comments have any merit? Probably if most owners really do believe they "own the ranch" and merely "allow the players to eat there." But I do think some of his understanding of concepts is, well, as off the mark as your Uncle Al's.
A few quibbles:
ISN: Last thing Jimmy, any thoughts on players moving on and playing for the KHL or other European Leagues during the lockout?
Devellano: "The players are doing what they have to do, but it's funny, you talk about solidarity and a handful have already bolted. You know who they are...like they need the money...yeah right!
Devellano is reportedly quite anti-union, so his careless approach to this aspect maybe shouldn't be surprising.
But ... the
cattle players are locked out. They aren't on strike, so they're not getting other jobs while some of them walk the picket line. The ranchers owners locked them out. As long as the league refuses to let them play, they have every right (and union interest) to play elsewhere. To show the owners that no, they aren't the only ranch in town.
Devellano's "like [the players] need the money" comment is also a rather throwaway line for a guy who out of the other side of his mouth is defending the cries of poverty by billionaires who own their teams as part of profitable conglomerates or as tax-writeoffs that stroke their ego. A lot of these players aren't getting lucrative contracts in Europe; rather, they're playing in Europe because they play hockey for a living. It kind of helps their careers if they keep doing it and keep their bodies conditioned for the job.
"...But I would caution them to be very careful not to get hurt because as of two days ago, we pulled all their league insurance (dental, medical, player) and all the benefits for each player, so if they get hurt, the NHL will not pay them one dime until they are cleared by league doctors and to the owner's satisfaction that the player is 100% fit and able to perform."
Well, now he just sounds like an insensitive prick. In teenage snarkese, he's essentially saying: "Hey players, still planning to take your daughter to the dentist in October? Think again! LOL, we took away your benefits, like we've been planning all summer long. Also, I wish your wife good luck giving birth to that son...hope he's draftable in 18 years though."
Every lockout brings moments like this, as the NHL and the NHLPA try to run a tight ship of daily PR spin and make sure none of their members undermine that.
Regardless, I don't mean to pile on Jimmy D here. The whole interview is worth a read, with good bits of insight into one ownership perspective and a few good points too. It's more entertaining, from a lockout perspective, that you get a hefty NHL fine for being honest.
And why does such talk draw a fine? Because of a dynamic that Devellano accurately described earlier in the interview:
"...a lot of folks truly believe [Bettman] is the driving force behind all the decisions on how owners proceed. Some of this is true, but I can tell you he is directed by 30 separate business owners who all give him advice and he has to take all of this and come back to all of them with what makes the most sense as a group."
And if these 30 separate business owners were all allowed to pop off in the media about how they see the CBA issues, they'd reveal themselves as a chaotic group of mostly unseemly fellows. Bettman's job and making the owners' case would be harder. And most of the rage that is now channeled toward Bettnan would be directed at them.
Which would be a challenge, because most of them cannot pull off Devellano's folksy charm.