I have been attached to the National Hockey League Fan Association since early in it's existence - believing a unified voice representing the fans is necessary in Major League sports... Of course, that's tougher than it looks because of the fact fans vary so much from coast to coast... Their likes, loyalties, pet peeves, observations and opinions on how things would be better/worse under certain conditions drives them (or should I say us, as I assume any person reading this blog is a fan)... It helps them band together and divide them all at the same time.
Jim Boone, co founder of the NHLFA, has been one to try to bridge that great divide between fans over the last five years. The group boasts just under 25 thousand members between Canada and the United States and had proposed to Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow the idea of an independant mediator to help resolve the current labor strife.
With the 2004-05 season hanging in the balance and neither side of this labor dispute talking, Boltsmag asks Boone a few questions about the league, the labor war, and the NHLFA....
Boltsmag: Have you ever heard directly from Alexi Yashin or his representatives? (Editor?s Note: Alexi Yashin?s contract holdout with the Ottawa Senators in the late 1990?s was one of the contributing factors that helped found the NHLFA)
Boltsmag: To date, the NHLFA has gotten much more press in Ottawa and Canada, is there a plan for greater exposure?
Boone: Being based in Ottawa, it?s much easier and more accessible for the media to contact us. However, in the past few weeks we have conducted many national interviews in both Canada and the U.S. It?s really tough getting media coverage in the U.S.
Boltsmag: Do you believe exposure in the US would increase the Association's weight with the players and owners?
Boone: It would definitely increase our Membership, which would increase our clout.
Boltsmag: What's been the most difficult part of maintaining the NHLFA?
Boone: The cost of maintaining this non-profit business and the time commitment involved are easily the two most difficult things. Who knew in 1998 that it would cost us this much money and time? Would we do it again? I think so.
Boltsmag: Are there any particular goals that you and your partner, Jim Spendlove, had set out to accomplish for the Fan Association that you have completed?
Boone: Yes, to give the individual fan a voice. We figured that collectively, with tens of thousands of Members, we could influence the NHL and NHLPA?s decision-making process. Nobody will listen to one fan, but they have no choice but to listen to 25,000 of us standing strong.
Boltsmag: What would you like to accomplish in the future through the group?
Boone: First and foremost, we would like the NHLFA to continue. That will only be possible if we can figure out a successful business model to generate enough income to keep it going. Every year Jim S. and I vow to either find a way to make this self-supporting or we won?t continue managing it because it costs us way too much money (and we?re not NHL players). Six years have past and we?re still hoping our successful model is around the next corner.
Boltsmag: Do you believe there will be a 2004-05 NHL season?
Boone: Personally, I think they will settle this in mid to late December 2004. Christmas is a time for giving and forgiving. I truly don?t think either side is crazy enough to let this drag on any longer than New Years. The NHL may never recover from a long lockout.
Many of our Members and other fans I have spoken to, think this season is already lost.
Boltsmag: Do you have any contact with the NHLPA -- the union representatives or the players directly?
Boone: Once we met Bob Goodenow (1999) and he promised to meet with us ?soon?. Periodically, we have spoken with Devin Smith at the NHLPA, but not that often in recent years. Every year we send Bob a letter asking for an opportunity to meet with him to discuss the NHLFA and NHLPA and every year he ignores us.
Boltsmag: Gary Bettman said thanks but no thanks to the NHLFA's offer to find a mediator... Do you understand Bettman's logic with this decision and do you agree with it?
Boone: We don?t understand his logic and we don?t agree with it.
Boltsmag: Have you heard anything from Robert Goodenow or the NHLPA concerning your offer? Have you ever been able to get in touch with Mr. Goodenow for that matter?
Boone: Two hours before I appeared as a fan and leader of the NHLFA to ask Bob a question on CBC News ?It?s Your Turn? (Sept. 22, 2004), I received a call from a media relations staffer at the NHLPA. He told me that they were short-staffed and very busy and in the future if I had any similar CBA related questions I could contact Trevor Linden directly. We did not discuss the NHLPA?s response to the open letter suggesting mediation/arbitration. I did ask Bob this question on the CBC program and he brushed it off.
Boltsmag: Do you believe a hard salary cap is actually a reasonable demand on the part of the owners? If so, what level - $31 mil, $34 mil, $40 mil., or higher?
Boone: Our Members firmly supporting either a strict luxury tax or a salary cap. Hopefully, one of the two will be part of the solution and hopefully the ceiling will be as low as possible, because that increases the odds of ticket prices coming down.
Boltsmag: Do you believe the owners would consider a restrictive luxury tax (ie: 100% tax on every dollar spent above $40 million) as opposed to a cap? Would the union agree?
Boone: I hope the NHL considers adopting a restrictive luxury tax vs. salary cap. It may the best deal they can get. However, I think the NHLPA would never accept such a strict tax (100% above the ceiling). There has to be a happy medium.
Boltsmag: Do you believe the NHLPA has bargained over the last 15 months (since their last offer to ownership before recent) in bad faith?
Boone: There?s been so much posturing going on and rhetoric thrown around it?s hard to believe all the accusations. Regardless of both parties good faith and bad faith bargaining, they both have a responsibility to their customers and the ?game? to quickly resume negotiations and hammer out a deal. I?ve never seen such disrespect for the ?customer? in my life. Every other business treats the customer as gold.
Boltsmag: Some people view contraction as a partial solution to the leagues financial problems, what is the NHLFA's take on this?
Boone: Unfortunately, we have never polled our Members on the contraction issue. We should do that in the coming months.
Boltsmag: Has there been any evidence, besides the wayward out-of-context quotes that have surfaced in the media, of dissent toward the NHLPA bargaining position from the players themselves?
Boone: No, Bob?s gag order is working beautifully. Likewise, the NHL has done a masterful job at keeping all its owners and managers quiet. I think if a reasonable deal is publicly floated, you will start hearing from players and owners breaking ranks.
Boltsmag: What is the NHLFA's position on other start-up leagues vying to fill the missing NHL void (WHA and OSHL for example)? Do you believe either will get off the ground if collective bargaining continues to be a stalemate?
Boone: Again, we have not polled our Members and, therefore, do not have an opinion on the start-ups.
Boltsmag: Several years ago, the NHLFA's annual fan report found many fans in favor of making goalies open season on ice. Would this be more effective in stimulating scoring than the planned rule to hinder goalies play of the puck?
Boone: Our fans believe making the goalie ?open season? when he leaves his crease to play the puck will increase scoring, but personally, I don?t think that would ever happen. There would be bench-clearing brawls every time a goalie got nailed. On the other hand, I think the NHL?s idea of keeping goalies in the crease is worth an experiment. New Jersey has three defensemen on the ice at all times with Brodeur in net. The League wants scoring to increase and this proposed new rule may add a few goals along the way.
Boltsmag: After Wayne Gretzky?s retirement, the ?marketable player? for the NHL has been unclear; who would you think is the best player to promote?
Boone: I think the most marketable players are also the best role models and should be they should be the players that the marketing campaigns promote. Every year our Members vote for Steve Yzerman as the best role model. If he doesn?t win it, he comes in second (one day we should rename it the Yzerman Award). Another, younger player, also has been receiving lots of votes for this award. Jarome Iginla is taking over as the NHL?s foremost role model. These are two excellent choices to promote NHL hockey.
Boltsmag: Do you believe that the NHL holds its referees accountable for their calls (be they bad calls, missed calls, or overzealous calls)?
Boone: Our Members think the refs do a great job, but the direction they receive from the NHL is inconsistent. For the past three years, the League has opened its seasons stating crackdowns on interference and obstruction would not be tolerated. After a couple of months, the refs are allowing the old play to resurface and our fans believe the NHL should be blamed, not the refs.
Boltsmag: Do you think the lax policing on the ice for dirty hits helped the Todd Bertuzzi / Steve Moore incident come to pass (dirty hits are seldom gotten away with and thinking that was what would come to pass, Bertuzzi attacked Moore)?
Boone: That?s a really tough question to answer. I feel sorry for everyone involved in that incident (Vancouver fans, both teams, both players, etc.) and I hope it doesn?t happen again. At the same time, our Members think the book should be thrown at Bertuzzi and he should continue with his suspension when play resumes. A harsh sentence by the NHL (and possibly the courts) will deter this from happening again.
Boltsmag: If there was one immediate change you could make to the NHL, what would that be?
Boone: I would expand the ice in every arena. Players are bigger and faster than ever and the small ice hinders speed, good passing and excitement.
Boltsmag: If you could deliver a message to the fans why they should join the NHLFA at this point what would you tell them? What would it help accomplish if they were to join the organization?
Boone: It?s really important for hockey fans to join our rolls now, because the NHL and NHLPA have to know that we?re united. We need a loud voice and every new Member increases our volume. It?s free to join (www.nhlfa.com) and we don?t annoy you with too many e-mail messages.