The sustained interest in my column late last month on the NHL's troubles has been impressive. Hundreds of additional letters came in this week on the subject, so we'll keep the Gary Bettman debate running.
But first, a little more on Tayshaun Prince/Carmelo Anthony and, at the end, some takes on Sebastian Telfair.
As always, my responses are in italics. And I appreciate each and every letter. Volume precludes me from responding individually but I read them all.
Now on to The People's Voice …
TAYSHAUN PRINCE ("This Prince is no pauper" May 4, 2004)
Regarding Darko versus Carmelo … Chemistry is important in Detroit. Carmelo has shown a couple times that he's very much an "it's about me" player. That just doesn't sit well here and he'd wear out his welcome quickly. My guess is Joe D thought it best to take a chance and develop someone with great potential rather than bring in great talent that wouldn't fit in.
While you talked about the D that Prince has played, particularly in the playoffs, you could've compared it to Carmelo's. Their careers will run concurrently, and I doubt Prince will outscore Carmelo more than once or twice, but I guarantee that the player defended by Carmelo will outscore whoever Prince matches up against.
You state that Anthony could not have been more valuable than Prince was to the Pistons' [May 3] win. I'm sure there were players who were more valuable than Jordan, Magic or Bird on some nights. That does not mean that they were better players.
When considering the value of a player to a team, let's put Prince on the Nuggets in place of Anthony and see if Denver still would have made the playoffs this year. I think not. Had the Pistons drafted Anthony, they may be hosting a fourth critical home game in the Eastern Conference finals instead of playing at Conseco.
In no way am I stating that you undervalue Anthony. But let's not go making comparisons between Prince and Anthony – it's apples and oranges. As far as picking Milicic, ever hear of Sam Bowie?
I don't disagree with you. As I said in the column, who wouldn't want Carmelo Anthony? But Prince had a fabulous playoffs up through Game 1. He at least gives the Pistons' standard answer a modicum of credibility.
ANTHEM BOOING ("The People's Voice gets heated about hockey" May 4, 2004)
You said: "The booing of the U.S. national anthem was classless … But it was a small segment of the Montreal crowd at just one game that did the booing. If it were more widespread or repeated each night, then I'd be more offended."
Well you should be more offended then, since it's happened more than once. When the Bruins came to Montreal two years ago in the playoffs, the fans booed then. I've lived in Montreal for almost six years and I've heard it sporadically during that time. It's never a majority of the fans and not at every game, but there is a history. As an American, it's tough to stomach.
I'm probably in the minority here but I wouldn't call the Boston fans "tremendous" for applauding "O Canada," nor would I call Montreal fans "classless" for booing the U.S. anthem.
Some Montreal fans have been booing the anthem ever since the invasion of Iraq. In February 2003, Montreal was the site of one of the largest anti-war rallies in the world; over a quarter million people took to the streets. There is a large politically active population in Montreal, and like most things, the people of Montreal feel very passionately about this issue.
Now you may feel that sports and politics are not connected, and therefore they should not have booed. However, events like "The Miracle on Ice" or the '72 Summit Series (and even arguably the Salt Lake Olympics) are very important events, not only in the history of hockey in Canada or the U.S., but important events in the political history of each country. Sports such the Olympics can unite a nation like few other events. Therefore they, like most things, have a political element.
You should also consider that there aren't many public forums and spaces to vent anger and frustration at the United States foreign policy – a sporting arena affords that during say the playing of a national anthem.
As for Boston fans, I watched the game and the applause seemed to me to be tongue-in-cheek, in the sense of: If you boo we'll cheer and that will show you. I just didn't think it was a tremendous gesture.
Thanks for your time. I hope you consider this opposing view.
Regarding the booing by Montreal fans, I'll have to say they've seen that same behavior modeled by Bruins and Rangers fans in the Molson Centre. We occasionally drive up to Montreal to catch a Habs game, and, after two games (vs. the Bruins and the Rangers) decided we'd only return to see them play another Canadian team or one of those "expansion" teams (Nashville, Anaheim, et al.) because the American fans were so boorish.
They chanted "U-S-A, U-S-A" during the playing of "O Canada" or "speak English!" when the announcer made each announcement in French. Even standing in the concession line was an embarrassment as the Bruins and Rangers fans derided all the food choices (in Quebec, of course, they served poutine – fries covered with gravy and cheese curds), beer choices (no Bud or Miller or Coors) and exchange rates.
All of this was before 9/11 and the Iraq war. None of this excuses what Montreal fans did in this year's playoffs. Folks should know, nonetheless, that Montreal fans have seen the same sort of boorishness directed at them.
I think we can all agree there are idiots on both sides of the border. I once attended a Bruins game at the old Montreal Forum. Everyone was well-behaved. The Canadiens won easily but the Bruins fans were able to take solace in the fact that we drank the concession stand dry of Molson. Now that's hockey.
GARY BETTMAN ("Woe Canada" April 26, 2004)
Two words that can bring hockey back to life: Brian Burke. I hope the NHL owners realize the stupidity of our ownership here in Vancouver getting rid of one of the best hockey men in the world can be a blessing for this league. Bettman should be shown the door, put in a limo and be allowed to ride into the sunset.
Burke is a Harvard lawyer, worked for the NHL, was a player agent and knows how to build a winning team that works in a medium market and makes a profit. The Vancouver Canucks are what they are because of Brian and the fans here are outraged at his dismissal. Let's hope our anger is for naught and Burkie gets a chance to fix the NHL from the top down.
Bettman had a sound strategy for expansion. The plan was to increase the NHL's footprint to a national status in the U.S. to hopefully get a lucrative network TV contract. The truth, though, is that hockey is and always will be a regional sport. The NHL had to try though and see if a national strategy worked.
The owners hired Bettman for his business acumen, not hockey knowledge. His biggest mistake was caving to dove owners like Howard Baldwin in the '94-'95 lockout, or else the NHL would have fixed its labor problem then. The NHL bylaws were changed so that a small minority can't sabotage the labor agreement this time. Tying player salaries to revenues is a fundamental business principle. I applaud Bettman and the owners for hopefully taking a hard line stand with a lockout to bring fiscal responsibility back to the game.
I don't think the NHL needed to "try" a national strategy. I think it was pretty obvious what was going to happen. The fact is the league isn't as good as it used to be, two-thirds of its teams are bleeding money and we are facing a prolonged lockout. Bettman has to answer for some of this.
I begrudgingly admit that many (most) of your readers are right. As much as I love more teams and more games, I don't watch hockey as much as I did. I've been to many Devils games and watched apathetic crowds arrive late, leave early and not care much in between. And this is a consistently contending team! I watched the Canadian home crowds and was very impressed by the energy level in the stands.
I live in an area where within two hours I can get to four NHL stadiums … but I don't. The rivalries aren't there, it's expensive, and most play has deteriorated into "hug, hold, and lock." Scoring is now like soccer and so are the ratings in the U.S.
Why should we feel like it is some kind of tragedy that a Canadian team can't get its stuff in one sock? Do you really think hockey is in trouble if the Canadiens or Leafs don't win the Cup this year? The reason the Cup has been in the USA the last 10 years has a lot more to do with goaltending than what country that teams play in. Broduer, Belfour and Roy are the three biggest reasons, not Bettman.
Corpus Christi, Texas
The Leafs just lost Game 6 against Philly and my playoff hopes are finished. There will most likely be no season next year, so as a fan I am making a stand. Regular season games are sooooo boring that even when the season starts up again I will not watch any games on TV. I will play my Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Hockey leagues and get updated on scores, but I refuse to watch or attend any more boring regular season games against teams that I don't even care to see.
Playoff hockey is also getting boring. Hopefully, if we can get rid of Bettman and make some changes back to the way the league was 12-18 years ago, then fans like me will feel like we're not getting ripped off by paying $175-plus to attend a game.
If Canadians are concerned about the "state of hockey in Canada," why don't the top Canadian players band together and play for their homeland teams?
Peter Forsberg can't wait to head home and play for his country for less money; why can't top Canadians do the same?
I really enjoyed your article about Gary Bettman and what he's done to the NHL. The subject of Bettman reminds me of my all-time favorite quote.
Several years ago Don Cherry was talking to Ron MacLean on the Coach's Corner segment of "Hockey Night in Canada." Don said, "Gary Bettman wouldn't know a hockey player if he slept with Bobby Orr."
The look on MacLean's face that night was priceless.
OK, so hockey may not be a perfect fit in Nashville, Miami or Nashville, 30 teams is at least six too many and Bettman doesn't know his butt from a hole in the ground. However, it's silly to blame the U.S. for the socialist mismanagement of the Canadian economy.
In the mid-'60s, the levels of prosperity in our two countries were roughly even. Since then, the Canadian economy has underperformed and its tax levels have risen, leaving an average Canadian with far less disposable income than the average American. In other words, a little economic knowledge shouldn't be too much to expect from a hockey writer.
And, as far as Bettman is concerned, he is kept there by the owners who are the real perpetrators of the debacle known as the NHL. As an old line from "Married … with Children" goes "a chimp shoots a man with the gun, you don't blame the chimp; you blame the person who gave him the gun."
Miami Beach, Fla.
Anyone who can back up their argument with a "Married … with Children" quote has my respect.
SEBASTIAN TELFAIR ("Telfair plays the game" May 6, 2004)
If you want to know why so many kids are jumping from high school to the NBA, look no further than Mr. Telfair. You see people such as agents, shoe companies and friends who are looking to make some easy money, telling these kids they're better than they really are.
Yes, if I were in his position, I would without a shadow of a doubt take the money. But unfortunately we live in a world where potential is more appetizing than substance. For every Kevin Garnett there is a Lenny Cooke. Kobe Bryant – Leon Smith. I could go on but I don't have that kind of time. NBA needs production right now, not later.
Just read your Telfair column, and a couple of things seemed kind of odd to me. In particular, if you're quoting someone like Vaccaro taking shots at adidas, isn't it worth noting that Vaccaro until very recently worked for adidas, doing (from what I've read) pretty much the exact same job there he now does for Reebok? It's not hard to imagine there'd be bad feelings there, and not mentioning that he's talking about his recent employer seems a little disingenuous, at best.
Also, as far as whether Telfair can even "play basketball," isn't that a bit harsh? I live in New York and have seen him play a few times. While I don't believe he's on the level of a player like LeBron, he seems to be pretty damn good. I can't say whether he's good enough to justify a lottery pick (were Darko Milicic or Nick Collison?), but his resume is fairly impressive nonetheless. Curious to hear your reply.
New York, N.Y.
I mentioned in the column that Vaccaro was a competitor. I assumed readers would take his comments (and Nike's) as such. As for whether Telfair "can play" – I meant by NBA standards. Obviously he can "play" a lot better than 99 percent of the world. Whether he becomes a NBA star remains to be seen.