SBD/December 10, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 86: How Mario Lemieux, Penguins Tried To Save The Season

Lemieux helped bring in ownership groups from Toronto and Winnipeg
Penguins co-Owner & Chair Mario Lemieux "made two calculated decisions" before the NHL lockout began Sept. 15 -- deciding he "would not wait until it was too late to get involved" and he would build a group "so that he would not become the story, or ammunition for NHLPA leadership," according to Rob Rossi of the PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW. CAA Hockey co-Head Pat Brisson talked to Lemieux around Thanksgiving, and Brisson said, "We agreed that maybe now we should try something. What was our choice, to sit back and watch the season die?" Lemieux "was in, but on the condition that he not be front and center." Lemieux began "working the phones, starting with" Penguins co-Owner Ron Burkle. There was a "joint effort by Lemieux and Brisson to get other NHL franchises, ones not identified as hard-line supporters" -- such as Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs and Wild Owner Craig Leipold -- on board. The Penguins instead "called on support from" Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik, while Kings President of Business Operations Luc Robitaille and Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin "were instant allies." This "French Canadian Connection of Lemieux, Brisson, Robitaille and Bergevin gathered speed, and helped sweep aboard ownership groups in Toronto and Winnipeg, the NHL’s biggest and smallest Canadian markets." Brisson started "leaning [on] his highest profile NHL players, including vocal anti-owner" Blackhawks C Jonathan Toews. Brisson "looked for signals as to who he could count upon." Penguins C Sidney Crosby "did not need convincing." Crosby banked on "commanding respect from more reasonable players because of his public and behind-the-scenes involvement with the NHLPA since the summer." Convinced there were players "eager to hear from other owners, he traveled on the week after Thanksgiving to speak in person with a large group of players training in Arizona." While there, Coyotes RW Shane Doan told Crosby that he "would back any effort that could spark talks." Doan said that it "was about trying to save the season -- and maybe the NHL." Doan: "Sid’s just the face of the whole NHL. He makes our case by just doing such a good [job] representing the league" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 12/9).

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT: Sabres G Ryan Miller on Friday "explained his version" of a "heated exchange" he reportedly had with Jacobs last week during the labor meetings. Miller in a text message wrote, "The owners wanted to leave the room and pull everything we spent a full day on. I asked them to stay and continue pushing through. I may have been passionate but there was no disrespect or calling out one owner by name. I have a lot of respect for any owner because they are a big part of hockey." He added, "I wanted more than anything to make a deal but we are not professional negotiators. We as players didn't have the experience or authority to make a final deal. We were trying to responsibly move this process forward as best we could" (, 12/7).

RIGHT WHERE HE NEEDS TO BE: In N.Y., Jeff Klein wrote Kings RW Kevin Westgarth is "well suited to be on the negotiating team" for the NHLPA. The "enforcer" with a psychology degree from Princeton has been present "for almost every bargaining session since before the NHL lockout began." Westgarth said of the similarities between his role in the union and on the ice, “I feel like I want to protect my teammates.” He added, “It’s just the hockey player ethos." The contributions of Westgarth and "a group of other committed players have been invaluable to the union." Westgarth said, “There are a half-dozen or more players who knew exactly where we were and could detail every aspect of where we were at. It became obvious that the guys they brought in had nowhere near a complete understanding of what the proposals were and where we were in the negotiations. I thought it was great that Ron Burkle, [Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment Chair] Larry Tanenbaum, [Jets Owner] Mark Chipman and Jeff Vinik got involved -- clearly they’re passionate and care about the game -- but it shows how tightly controlled the league is.” He added, “Part of their tactics is to demonize Don [Fehr] -- we’ve seen it before” (N.Y. TIMES, 12/9).
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