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KELLEY: Hockey's movers and shakers

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Jim Kelley

 
   
 
So you thought , last season's scoring and goal scoring leader was a man who could throw his weight around in the National Hockey League? Wrong. Maybe you argued that , the Hart Trophy winner as the League's MVP was the big man on the NHL's campus this time out? Thing again, puckhead. ? ? ? Fuggettaboudit. We're not novices here at FOXSports.com. We've been around the rinks for a few years and the real heavyweights aren't the guys you see slashing and hacking along the boards or in the crease. They are the guys in and around the boardrooms that determine the fate of the game. With that in mind, we give you the FOXSports.com Top 10 list of movers and shakers in today's NHL. We suspect more than a few of them — or their order of importance — will surprise you. 1. Bob Goodenow, Executive Director of the NHL Player's Association Yeah, yeah, we know, you were expecting commissioner Gary Bettman in this spot. But understand this, under Goodenow's reign, salaries have more than tripled, most player's get an automatic 10 percent raise whenever their contracts are up even if they've had a bad year, the PA wins the majority of the arbitration cases and even when it loses, players still tend to get substantial raises. The one concession the NHL thought it got from Goodenow when its current Collective Bargaining Agreement was struck seemingly a lifetime ago was a cap on rookie salaries. Some cap. Most first-round kids make in excess of $1 million the moment they sign a contract and the bonus structure — which is uncapped — has driven those total packages as high as $8 million per season with no end to the escalation in sight. In addition, Goodenow has a tight grip on his association whose players are loyal to a fault. The Commish can hardly say the same as the owners he represents continue to hand out the salaries that drive up the costs they so often complain about. 2. Gary Bettman, Commissioner of the NHL Bettman has done many good things for the game, especially on the business and revenue side. Being the Commish, he obviously wields great power over teams and in the league offices. However, Bettman seems at a loss as to how to make the game more popular as failing TV ratings show. Expanding to 30 teams has been a limited success and his extending the Collective Bargaining Agreement to include a pair of Olympic outings was extremely costly and failed to have a major impact on the popularity of NHL hockey. Worse, NHL hockey seemed to suffer slings and arrows from fans and media who argue that the Olympic game is better (not necessarily true, but the perception is out there). Inconsistent rulings about on-ice violence also reflect poorly on his office. Bettman fought for a salary cap (cost certainty in his language) in his first major go-round with Goodenow. He shut the league down for 105 days and didn't get it. He needs one in 2004 to keep his job. 3. Bill Daly, NHL Vice President and Chief Legal Officer Lots of talented people have moved through the NHL offices during Bettman's term, but few have had an impact like Daly. He's a lawyer so he speaks the Commish's language, but Daly seems to have a tad more people skills and has developed a reputation as someone who has the respect of even his most fiercest opponents in the PA. Daly fights on a lot of fronts, but he has a talent for listening and for innovative solutions. He's an on-the-rise executive that could be some league's No. 1 someday. 4. Don Meehan, Newport Sports Agency (coupled as an entry with his partner, Pat Morris) The most powerful agent in the NHL today, Meehan brokers the deals for many of the game's superstars and up-and-coming players. Among his client list is goalie , forward , goalie , center and Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean. Meehan/Morris have players of reputation in every locker room in the NHL, as well as broadcasting, and until the league and the PA argued about the conflict of interests, Meehan represented coaches and general managers as well. His reputation is as a tough but fair negotiator who gets deals done, but some of that comes from his pervasive influence within the game. 5. Jeremy Jacobs, owner Boston , president Delaware North Companies fans know him as the owner they love to hate, but Jacobs is both powerful and respected at levels well behind the Causeway St. home of his team. He's a member of the league's executive committee and chairman of the powerful audit-finance committee that manages league spending. He is very tight with Bettman and is a prime force behind the Commissioner's perceived strength within the Board of Governors. Via Delaware North, Jacobs plays a major role in arena management and concessions operations throughout the NHL. He has money, power and influence and knows how to use all three separately and in combination. Not to be trifled with. 6. Colin Campbell, NHL Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Widespread duties including supervising the way the game is played, the discipline of players and what rules will and will not be enforced and when. Because of the nature of the job he is often in the eye of controversy, especially with the public, the players and the general managers. He has a reputation for making tough decisions and sticking by them. Campbell has a great passion for the game and attempts to be fair even in situations where there is no clear distinction as to right or wrong. Has an innate ability to work with people in the game, which helps earn trust and respect even when his edicts are perceived as wrong or shortsighted. 7. Wayne Gretzky, part owner Phoenix You can also list him as the unofficial general manager to the , world-wide ambassador for hockey, Executive Director of the Canadian Olympic team, the game's most prolific scorer, Canada's most famous athlete, commercial pitchman, past, present and, for the foreseeable future, living face of the game. Whew, quite a resume. Simply put, when Gretzky talks people listen. That includes players on his team, players throughout the league, agents, general managers and even owners. No Gretzky idea is ever dismissed out of hand, not on the ice, not in the boardroom. He need only take his thoughts public to have a groundswell of support for whatever he thinks should happen in hockey. 8. Andy VanHellemond, NHL Director of Officiating Few people have as much pressure in their daily job as VanHellemond. He's in charge of making the much-maligned two-referee system work. He's the man charged with executing the latest crackdown on obstruction, which, if successful, will change the face of hockey. He's charged with rebuilding an officials pool that has been weakened by age and retirements and the swelling of the ranks brought on by the two-man system. He is also the unseen hand of discipline within the officials' ranks, making decisions as to which referees work the key playoff games, what gets called on a regular basis and what discipline is needed when officials make a mistake. Strong-willed, strong-minded and passionate about his job, he has immense respect from all parties. He entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in the same class as Gretzky. It was by design and no small honor. 9. , Pittsburgh owner/player Like Gretzky, Lemieux is the voice of hockey, but with a twist. Mario is still playing and so when he speaks out about the lack of offense or fighting or even officiating, lots of people — both in sweaters and in suits — listen. Injuries have dulled somewhat the impact of his comeback seasons, but he still is viewed as an all-world player who happens to know something about the business side of the game. Few people believe it when an owner says the game is in trouble on the ice or in a business sense. They believe it when Lemieux speaks to either issue. 10. Ted Saskin, NHLPA senior director Another name you likely never heard of, but a powerful behind-the-scenes player. Saskin is Goodenow's No. 2 man. Though less visible than his boss, Saskin is respected in the PA ranks and, grudgingly, in the league offices as someone who gets things done. He has less of a confrontational style than Goodenow and there are people who argue that if he and Daly do the heavy lifting come contract negotiations, a deal could actually get done without a strike or a lockout. That's high praise, but Saskin knows the business of hockey as well as anyone in either office and better than most. He's made a great many of the deals that have put the NHLPA on solid economic footing. Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Flames, Red Wings, Canadiens, Islanders, Rangers, Penguins, Avalanche, Nicklas Lidstrom, Jose Theodore, Curtis Joseph, Jarome Iginla, Michael Peca

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