The lack of a noticeable presence in NHL Collective Bargaining talks by Columbus Blue Jackets ownership has been both worrisome and, unfortunately, expected. Is the team that seems to be affected on more fronts than any other in the league by both the current CBA and a potential lockout allowing everyone else to do the dirty work? Are their needs and best interests being served by the group currently sitting at the ownership table?
Of course I need to acknowledge that obviously the team isn't going to come out with a public statement on the proceedings. The NHL has issued a gag order, fining teams that do so. It would be foolish and unproductive to be giving interviews on the subject.
But I don't see any reason that ownership of a team sitting where the Jackets are sitting shouldn't be one of the driving voices at the table. Are they represented by the Boston Bruins? An original 6, large market team who, despite it's resources, has had a reputation for being on the frugal side. Or the Minnesota Wild? A smaller market team who is so struggling with salary related losses that they just handed out twin $100 million contracts of their own free will. (That's a whole other head-shaking discussion.) Ted Leonsis should probably be there. He can get a little over excited sometimes, but he seems to be a pretty straight shooter.
If NHL teams are really losing money, (and the Blue Jackets have gone on record as saying that they are, closed books and all) then the Jackets have to be an example of this. They haven't done it by giving out huge CBA-circumventing deals right and left. While it can be argued that they have over-payed some guys, most of them have not been bank breakers relatively speaking. The one big deal they signed Rick Nash to was for equal money from year to year. And if he were still producing like he did when he signed it, it would probably be below market value. Despite not spending to the salary cap (excluding last season) they still claim they have lost money. This would lead me to think that they would want a very active role in any talks involving money. Although, I would think they would be more centered on revenue sharing, but that's just my opinion.
The Jackets are also probably the only team in the league who not only needs a hockey season, but needs it to start on time. What little buzz there has been around season ticket sales, has been strongly boosted by the presence of the NHL All Star Game in Nationwide Arena this season. That's not to say that there wouldn't be anyone buying tickets, but it has to have helped. Losing not only the season, but the premier event that the team has coveted, arguably as much as the Stanley Cup Playoffs, would be yet another damaging blow to those poor souls selling tickets for a living.
So I think it's a fair question to ask why John P McConnell, an excellent businessman and an even better person based on my experiences with him, isn't one of the men sitting at the table pressing to get this deal done right and right now. For his team, for his employees, for his city and for his fans. All of which I know he cares a great deal about.
Does he not have the clout to speak up? He should have. He's an NHL owner, just as they all are. He represents a much larger hockey market than many people around the league know. He and his family, in large part, have worked very hard to build a large portion of that market from scratch. Does he not like to speak out? I can't imagine anyone running a successful company like Worthington Steel, inherited or not, for as long as he has to have that type of personality.
Unfortunately, I believe it falls more in line with how the team has operated from the top all the way to the ice. The team and it's fans have had an inferiority complex for quite some time. It has been shown in where our real goals have been: Finishing over .500 for the season some seasons, making the playoffs others. The problem with that is that .500 doesn't get you into the playoffs and over half the teams in the league make the playoffs.
Our goals (and I mean real goals, not lip service) have never been each year to win the Stanley Cup. And there have been many excuses why. It used to be we couldn't afford to spend as much. The salary cap and last season shot holes in that excuse. Then there's the excuse that we haven't been around as long as others and not able to build a solid farm system and depth because of it. Several traded first round picks should take care of that one. Excuses and low expectations have become the norm.
Ownership and management has seemed in over their head as to how to properly build a winning hockey product on the ice. Now I worry that they are sitting back and reacting to the situation, letting others do the heavy lifting for them.
Maybe I'm wrong. It's happened once or twice or a million times. Maybe when this is all over and the gag order is lifted we'll discover that ownership was an integral force in getting a deal done. But if you're a fan who has been following this franchise for any length of time, what do you think the odds are of that happening? Or are we just clinging to hope in an ownership group with the best of intentions?