Gary Bettman

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


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 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.

Dropping like flies: Johnson, Killorn hurt in Bolts’ exhibition

Montreal Canadiens v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game One
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You probably know the drill: injury updates are murky in the NHL basically from the moment a puck drops.

We’ll learn more once the 2015-16 season begins, but at the moment, Saturday might have served as a costly night for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Both Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn went down with injuries stemming from a 3-2 pre-season win against the Florida Panthers.

“Guys were dropping like flies,” Steven Stamkos told the Tamba Bay Times.

These could be minor situations – just about any ailment will sideline a key asset this time of year – yet one cannot help but wonder if the Lightning might limp into this campaign.

Nikita Kucherov is dealing with his own issues, so that means at least minor issues for one half of the Bolts’ top six forwards.

It’s believed that more will be known about these banged-up Bolts sometime on Sunday.

Raffi Torres gets match penalty for being Raffi Torres

Raffi Torres

With knee issues still limiting him, Raffi Torres isn’t as mobile as he once was. Apparently he still moves well enough to leave the usual path of destruction.

It’s the pre-season, so it’s unclear if we’ll get a good look at the check, but Torres received a match penalty for his hit on Anaheim Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg.

Most accounts were pretty critical of the San Jose Sharks’ chief troublemaker:

It’s too early to tell if Silfverberg is injured. If he is, that’s a significant loss for the Ducks, as he really showed signs of fulfilling his promise (especially during the 2015 playoffs).

As far as Torres goes, he’s hoping to play in the Sharks’ season-opener. Wherever he ends up, he’ll certainly make plenty of enemies on the ice.

Whether it was because of that hit or just the general distaste shared by those sides, it sounds like tonight’s Sharks – Ducks exhibition is getting ugly, in general:

This post will be updated if video of the hit becomes available, and also if we get a better idea of Silfverberg’s condition.

Update: Bullet dodged?