by James Wattie
The NHL playoffs are right around the corner and with that come some great hockey battles. But the biggest headlines the league is generating these days are all off the ice.
Commissioner Gary Bettman must answer questions from the media daily on issues ranging from the troubles in Phoenix to the crisis surrounding concussions.
Dave Naylor, who has been covering issues such as these for TSN and the Globe and Mail, discussed the problems in the NHL in an interview in front of journalism students at Centennial College this week.
“I don’t see a turnaround in Phoenix,” he said.
Naylor says that the competition the Phoenix Coyotes face from other leagues, such as the NBA and NFL in their city, makes it tough to attract hockey fans.
The team, owned by the NHL after it went bankrupt, has been losing $20 million every year. In searching for a new owner, the league has priced the team at $170 million.
“That’s an inflated price,” Naylor said. “There’s nobody who would pay that.”
The city of Glendale, Arizona, in an attempt to keep the team there, has tried to raise municipal bonds financed by its citizens. The deal was supposed to close Feb. 28.
“If that doesn’t happen I don’t think we’ll have any more conversations about Phoenix because they will be gone,” Naylor predicted.
In a joint venture between TSN and the Globe and Mail, Naylor produced a 6-part series called “Why Not Canada?” which looked at the chances that Canada could see a 7th NHL team.
In the series, Naylor looked at the chances of a second team in Toronto, a team in Hamilton, or bringing the NHL back to teams in Quebec City or Winnipeg. In 1996, the Winnipeg Jets packed up and moved to Phoenix due to financial issues.
In an ironic twist of fate, there is a chance the team may move back to Winnipeg.
“It could take hours,” Naylor said. “It could take years.”
It certainly looks a lot better for Winnipeg then it did for southern Ontario getting an NHL team, when Research in Motion founder Jim Balsillie attempted to buy Phoenix and bring them to Hamilton. When it comes to the chances of a second Toronto team, Naylor said there is definitely a market for it, but he’s sure the Maple Leafs organization will take issue with it.
He compares the situation to a drug dealer who owns a monopoly in a certain part of town.
“What happens if somebody else shows up on that city block and says ‘I’m going to sell this drug too’? They’re going to take them out.”
The Maple Leafs said that they have a veto over their territory. However when Naylor interviewed league commissioner Bettman for the TV series, the NHL head said they did not.
While longstanding financial problems in certain NHL franchises keep simmering away, Bettman has been under the media spotlight this NHL season because of the serious health issues about violence in the sport. Superstar Sidney Crosby remains doubtful for the upcoming playoffs due to a concussion he received Jan. 1.
For Naylor, the answer is simply sociological.
“In any human behaviour, people will only perpetuate it if they believe there is more incentive to do it than not to do it,” he said. “They have not created enough disincentive for players to play, that would prevent them from injuring players, from hitting them in the head.”
In the book “McCown’s Law: The 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments”, which Naylor helped write with Sportsnet Radio’s Bob McCown in 2006, the pair offered a solution to headshots.
“Five years ago…we actually said if you want to correct discipline in the NHL, stop penalizing the players only and start penalizing the organizations and coaches and fining them.”
Using the example of Trevor Gillies, the New York Islander who was recently suspended for a headshot, Nalyor pointed out that in Gillies 12 professional hockey seasons, he has scored just nine goals and amassed 2,700 penalty minutes.
“So how valuable is he really to what [the Islanders] do?” he asked.
“If they really want to penalize the Islanders, they should force him to play,” he said, borrowing a joke he heard from Bruce Arthur of the National Post.
At the general manager’s meeting in Florida last week, Bettman said they would look into fining organizations, however no policy has been established.
Naylor has been reporting on sports ever since being hired as an intern for the Globe and Mail in 1991. He was offered a job nine years later.
He remained at the newspaper until recently when he was hired full time by TSN. At the Globe, he wrote a column called “Naylor’s Sideline View”.
He specializes in CFL, NFL and NHL analysis.
After the interview at Centennial College, Naylor imparted some interviewing tips for the journalism students in attendance.
“I’m big on how, what and why,” he said. “I almost never ask questions that can be answered with a yes or no.”
Naylor has interviewed notable sports stars such as Terrell Owens and Wayne Gretzky. When researching such prominent athletes, he suggests trying to find something you might have in common with them so that it is not just another run of the mill interview.
For the Gretzky interview, Naylor found a common ground that no other journalist would have asked the Great One about.
“Wayne Gretzky played lacrosse,” he said. “I played lacrosse. My dad played lacrosse. I’m going to talk to Wayne Gretzky about lacrosse.”
Getting an athlete to talk about a sport they used to play before they made it big in their respective field is another tip Naylor gave for making the interview special.
It is this uniqueness that has pushed Naylor into the upper echelons of sports reporters and it’s a job he enjoys every day.
“I think who ever told me [as a kid] “Make sure you do something that you really like”, I need to find that person and thank them, because that turned out to be really true.”