Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?
A lot of people — myself included — have been focusing a healthy amount of vitriol over this ongoing lockout at a group of owners thought to be central to the work stoppage's existence. Owners like Boston's Jeremy Jacobs, Calgary's Murray Edwards, Minnesota's Craig Leipold, Philadelphia's Ed Snider, Washington's Ted Leonsis, and so forth, have largely been seen as the guys driving the bus because they're the ones that have been at all the meetings.
But a funny thing happened this week. Elliotte Friedman's 30 Thoughts column went up earlier this week and kind of turned those suppositions on their ears. He named Jacobs as the likely Lex Luthor of this lockout (to the surprise of absolutely no one), and also implicated Leonsis as being complicit in heavily pushing the owners' agenda. But it turns out that it's — perhaps logically — not the owners in the markets where teams are actually making money that want the lockout to continue for the betterment of their bottom lines three or five years from now.
Friedman says an educated guess has the owners of the Anaheim Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, Phoenix Coyotes (which makes sense since you-know-who is calling the shots there), St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals as the ones who are being the real hardliners in all this.
What do those teams have in common? With a few exceptions in various areas, no one gives a rat's ass about them, they're poorly managed to begin with, they're guilty of giving out cap-circumventing contracts, and they stink.
Let's just go down the list here of the various teams who have Bettman's back through thick and thin because they believe the league as it stands now needs to change, no matter what the ultimate cost this season.
• Anaheim finished 25th in the league last season and 17th in 2009-10, and would likely have done the same in 2010-11 if not for an absurd hot streak by Corey Perry (who's on a frontloaded deal). The Ducks are a team that has been 24th or lower in league attendance in each of the last three seasons despite being within $5 million of the cap in all of them. They're a team that's managed alarmingly poorly, almost running a 40-goal scorer out of town on many occasions and taking an "it'll take care of itself" attitude toward its defense. Their GM has managed what was just a few years ago a very good team pretty much into the ground and seems unlikely to re-sign both or indeed either of Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry, and again, might still trade Bobby Ryan for scrap. "So please," says Ducks owner Henry Samulei, "protect Bob Murray from himself."
• The Blue Jackets are of course the laughingstock of the NHL, despite the acquisition of John Davidson, a poorly run mess who would have gone through at least two GMs in the last five years if their owners cared at all about accountability. How many years have they been in the league without winning a single playoff game again? The good news is they offloaded Rick Nash's terrible deal, but oh wait they got not-much back and made it a protracted, embarrassing drama. Everyone wants out for a reason, and it's not just that they've been higher than 20th in league attendance twice since the last lockout. The only person Columbus should be interested in locking out is Scott Howson (and maybe the penis cannon) from the city limits, but by all means, Gary, John McConnell needs you to keep him from giving James Wisniewski another $33 million over six more years, because he can't help himself. And by the way, they deserve to host the NHL All-Star game at least as much as Traktor Chelyabinsk does.
• The Stars are an interesting case because they too stink and also threw around a ton of money this summer on a couple of guys who are almost the same number of years to qualifying for Social Security than they are to when they broke into the league. A combined $9.05 million to who are a combined 80 years old? Sound investment. They have five forwards on their team making more than $4 million against the cap next season; and after Loui Erikson, the best one is Derek Roy. Woefully mismanaged? You bet. But hey, it's not like anyone will notice. They were 28th in attendance last year and missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. They weren't gonna make it next year either, so Tom Gagliardi doesn't care if they play a season or not.
• The Panthers finally did make the playoffs last season, of course, but they still only drew 16,628 fans a night, which to be fair was the highest total it saw since the turn of the century. You might call it good, but the real reason they made it, and almost advanced out of the first round (they of course didn't) is because they're still the very definition of a mediocre NHL team in a bad market with no fan support, nor does it really deserve any. The reason it wants contracts and revenue sharing rolled back is also pretty obvious: It spent foolish amounts of money in compiling this painfully average team two summers ago, then kept the tradition alive by giving Filip Kuba $4 million a year for two on a 35-plus contract. Have to believe Cliff Viner's thinking is that maybe a year off will bring Dale Tallon to his senses and put a stop to his wanton spending.
• There's not even a good place to begin with the Islanders. No one goes to their games (they regularly run neck-and-neck with Phoenix for the unenviable position of being 30th in the league in attendance) or wants to play for them because their rink is a hellhole, and in fact players are so against the idea of lacing 'em up 41 nights a year there that they'd rather go play in the KHL. Their owner might deeply care about the team and its legacy, but not so much that he'll treat Pat LaFontaine with the respect he deserves. Charles Wang probably wants the lockout to continue so everyone focused on his moving to a building that even with a hockey capacity of 14,500 won't sell out unless the Rangers are in town, and not on the Nassau Coliseum having more asbestos in it than holes in Ty Wishart's game.
• The Coyotes we don't need to discuss. It's owned by the league and therefore in lockstep with it. The good news, though, is that without the team playing this winter, the city doesn't have to continue to cut funding to vital services like local libraries. Oh it does? Hilarious.
• The Blues are maybe the biggest outlier in all this, given the fact that they're very good, having finished second in the West last season, but please ignore that embarrassing second-round sweep. They're well-managed sitting nowhere near the cap with lots of good young players either on the way or locked up long-term on very affordable deals. They've been top 10 in the league in attendance every year since 2008-09 despite not being very good for most of that time. So what could possibly keep its sizable ownership group led by Tom Stillman to buckle up for Gary Bettman's Wild Ride? Maybe because they just bought the team in May and might want to cut costs? I don't know, this is the hardest one to figure out.
• Not so with the Washington Capitals, though. Despite being good or even great and selling more than 100 percent of its seats since 2008-09, the team has some very problematic contracts that it would no doubt like to see reduced. One of them belongs to a superstar whose goal totals have shrunk in inverse proportion to his waistline; and oh by the way his $124 million, 13-year deal is backloaded. Mike Green might never be an effective offensive defenseman in this league — or completely healthy — again, but the Caps are still on the hook for $18.25 million over the next three years, which has to be uncomfortable. Nick Backstrom's real good, but he's also due $55 million through 2020, and Brooks Laich is inexplicably signed to a deal that will pay him another $20.5 million through 2017. George McPhee might be able to draft high-end talent with some frequency, but when it comes to signing his team's existing free agents, he has no idea what's going on. Ted Leonsis would love for there to be actual systems in place to prevent that kind of long-term spending, apart from him just refusing to sign the checks.
• But let's not forget this is all Jeremy Jacobs' idea. Boston, of course, is a successful, well-run team that sells out every night and gives players contracts with at least some amount of forethought most of the time. It is, unfortunately, owned by a cartoonishly villainous and greedy owner who probably counts the league's having smashed the NHLPA into disarray and forced it to accept the owners' CBA proposals in 2005 as a greater career achievement than his team winning a Stanley Cup under his own system six years later. But you already knew that.
These are the real obstacles to hockey coming back, and there's really no way for fans to fight it. I'd say it's important to go and take your money back from the team — as a whopping 1 percent of Hurricanes fans have done — but for the most part, again, these are teams that can't draw fans to begin with. So the answer, as always, is there is no answer, because the sheer number of owners buying in is too large to sway Bettman from his given purpose. The Winter Classic's getting canceled, but almost all of these teams don't care because they weren't going to ever play in one anyway.
Pearls of Biz-dom
We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?
BizNasty on sudden insights: "I hate sitting on a public toilet seat then realizing why it's still warm."
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- Jeremy Jacobs
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