Gary Bettman

Focus group fallout: When does enough become enough for the NHL?

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The latest PR disaster for the NHL – as if yet another work stoppage wasn’t tarnishing its image enough – came Monday when it was revealed by Deadspin that a focus group had been commissioned by the league to gauge fan reaction to various lockout-related issues.

The focus group – led by well-known political consultant and Republican strategist Frank Luntz – asked participants to, among other things, read lists of statements and answer which ones made them feel most negative about the owners, or which ones were the most persuasive in justifying the lockout, or which ones were most disappointing about the lockout.

The intent of the focus group was obvious: The NHL wanted to know the best way to sell the lockout to the fans.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed to sportsnet.ca that the league regularly does “polling and focus groups on issues impacting the league, as do other sports leagues. It’s part of our normal business practices.”

But most will argue there’s a difference between assembling a focus group for marketing purposes (e.g, “What do you like most about the NHL playoffs?”) and PR purposes.

And while some have tried to justify the league’s use of focus groups, even in this particular case, the overwhelming reaction to the Deadspin story has been negative.

The question is, has it been negative enough to soften the league’s position against the NHLPA and, in turn, help resolve the lockout?

We ask in large part due to the NFL’s experience during its recent referees lockout. In that case, a badly blown call by the replacement officials on Monday Night Football was considered to have embarrassed the league to the point it had no choice but to bring back the regular refs.

Not to suggest NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is taking as much flak for the Deadspin story as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell took for the replacement officials. The blown call in the Monday Night Football game was international news.

But Bettman is still taking some serious flak, the Deadspin story just the latest storm of controversy. Jim Devellano’s infamous “cattle” comment was another black eye for the NHL.

Bettman is used to the criticism and he knows it’s part of the job, but at some point enough has to become enough.

Whether we’re at the tipping point yet, or even close to it, is still to be seen.

The NHL and NHLPA are meeting today in Toronto.

Report: Sens protesting Kings goal after clock issue

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 10:  Trevor Lewis #22 of the Los Angeles Kings scores a goal on Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators to take a 3-2 lead as Marc Methot #3 and Anze Kopitar #11 react during the second period at Staples Center on December 10, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There was more than one controversial moment during Saturday’s game between the L.A. Kings and Ottawa Senators.

Sens defenseman Mark Borowiecki was given a major penalty for slamming Tyler Toffoli from behind into the boards, causing the Kings forward to undergo the league’s concussion protocol before he eventually returned to the game.

Later in the evening, there was a report from Darren Dreger of TSN that the Senators are protesting the Kings’ third goal of the game, which came with two seconds left in the second period. It was a pivotal moment in the game, as L.A. took a two-goal lead into the third period, before eventually winning 4-1.

Senators coach Guy Boucher didn’t place blame on a clock issue, but instead he put the onus on his team to not get scored on in that situation late in the period.

From LA Kings Insider:

“I’ll be honest with you, at that point for us we’ve just got to shut it down. We keep it at 1, it wasn’t about getting a goal there it was about getting off the ice. We had done the job in the second period, we had looked very good, we had the momentum, we needed to get into the third period with a one-goal lead. We’ve done it so many times this year coming back so I was confident we could come back, so no. I’m not looking at clocks, I’m not looking at penalties, I’m looking at ourselves just doing better.

The Kings now begin a stretch of nine games away from home. They play seven of those games before the holiday break, before resuming the trip on Dec. 28 versus the Canucks. The trip ends the following night in Edmonton.

Video: Unlikely combatants Kucherov and Daley drop the gloves

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Emotions were running high at times during the first period between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, in a rematch of the 2016 Eastern Conference Final.

Unlikely combatants Nikita Kucherov and Trevor Daley dropped the gloves for a spirited scrap early in the first period, after the two got tangled up in front of the Pittsburgh goal.

It’s been an ugly (or disastrous) start for the Avalanche in Montreal

Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar, top, and his team react during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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Welcome back, Gabriel Landeskog!

Congratulations on game No. 1,500, Jarome Iginla!

Those are sentiments you probably won’t be hearing from the Colorado Avalanche later on Saturday evening. Yes, they did get their captain back in the lineup from injury. Yes, Iginla was playing in the milestone 1,500th game of his NHL career — certainly an impressive feat in a day when the game is getting younger and getting quicker.

But then, the puck dropped and it all went down the drain for the Avalanche in the opening period. Actually, the opening 10 minutes. Facing the Montreal Canadiens, the Avs found themselves down 5-0 by the 8:41 mark. Of the first period.

Right?

Brian Flynn started the onslaught. Paul Byron got the Habs’ fifth goal.

Shots were at one point 13-2 for Montreal. Perhaps most concerning? This disastrous showing follows Matt Duchene calling out his team for a recent loss and, previous to that, coach Jared Bednar ripping the team for a lack of intensity.

Calvin Pickard got the start in net for Colorado, but he was pulled after giving up three goals on 10 shots. Semyon Varlamov entered the game and quickly allowed two goals on the first three shots he faced.

Hey, remember in November when the Habs lost 10-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets? Well, Montreal was halfway to double digits on Saturday, and the first period wasn’t even at the halfway mark.

As of the completion of this post, Montreal was up 6-0. With 5:30 remaining in the first period.

Video: Borowiecki slams Toffoli from behind into the boards

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Tyler Toffoli reportedly went through the concussion protocol for a portion of Saturday’s game against the Senators, after Ottawa defenseman Mark Borowiecki slammed the L.A. Kings forward from behind into the boards.

The incident occurred less than three minutes into the game.

Borowiecki was given a major penalty for boarding. He received another major, this time for fighting, later in the period after him and Matt Greene dropped the gloves. Now the question becomes: Will Borowiecki face supplemental discipline?

Toffoli missed the remainder of the first period, but returned for the second.

The Kings went on to win by a final score of 4-1.