Peladeau: From The Unreal World Of North American Professional Sports

Most fanatical sports fans naively accept the unreal world of big time professional sports where players, owners, officials, media, and management dwell apart from everyone else. One where there is no 9 to 5 job just to survive. One where million dollar contracts get turned down because it is not enough. One where even the smallest trinket cost far more than it should because it has a sports logo printed on it. One where wealthy men who have more than enough money get expensive facilities built for them at public expense. One where a city like St. Louis which supported its football team gets stripped of its NFL franchise simply because it is not as wealthy or populous as Los Angeles.

Occasionally there are events and people that make even the most naive fanatical fan step back and scratch their heads in disbelief. And for me at least, so far this year in professional hockey, that person is would-be Montreal Canadiens-Quebec Nordiques owner, potential bigoted Quebec politician Pierre Karl Peladeau, majority owner of the failed Quebecor bid that tried to revive the dormant Quebec Nordiques. When one thinks about what happened too closely like I did, one is simply dumbfounded.

In light of what happened one has to wonder whether Peladeau was ever really sincere about owning the Canadiens or reviving the Nordiques. And if I were the most bigoted separatist, Quebecois, he would not get my vote on the grounds of sheer waste and stupidity.

Peladeau, at the time the CEO of media giant Quebecor, wanted to give the company a stronger presence in the Province of Quebec and going into professional hockey seemed to him to be a good way of getting publicity and attention. First he tried to buy the Montreal Canadiens and when that failed, turned his attention to the dormant Quebec Nordiques and their arena problem.

When he tried to buy the Canadiens, he found himself competing against Molson Breweries, a company long associated with NHL, who had previously successfully owned the Canadiens for a significant part of their history and who had a family member, Senator Hartland Molson, enshrined in the Hockey Hall Of Fame. Peladeau would already be a suspect investor to a significant number of the NHL Board of Governors because he was a known supporter of the separatist Parti Quebecois but he virtually doomed any chance he had of joining that body by publicly denouncing Geoff Molson as unsuitable to own the Montreal Canadiens because he was an anglophone Quebecer after Molson Breweries became the new owner of the Canadiens.

Nevertheless without publicly apologizing to Molson or trying to reconcile with him, Peladeau submitted a bid to be the owner of a Quebec City expansion franchise. Thus you have the unreal, totally illogical situation of a man denouncing another man on racial grounds while at the same time trying to become his business partner on a Board of Governors. Fat chance of that happening. Commissioner Gary Bettman was bound to support Geoff Molson and it was an easy decision to reject Peladeau who was odious to not only Molson but probably to the other six Canadian franchise owners and the majority of the English speaking American ones. The NHL wants nothing to do with an investor who makes public, insensitive racial remarks, who may end up feuding with many of the other governors, and create a bad image for the league, no matter how much money he has to spend. The situation called for tact and healing and by his public condemnation of Molson, Peladeau showed that he could not be bothered to have any of those qualities. So rejecting him and his money was an easy decision for the NHL.

One of the clauses of the NHL’s expansion terms was a $10 million “consideration fee” of which $8 million was refundable if the bid was turned down. So unless Peladeau was totally naive and inexperienced about these matters, thinking that money would always do the talking and that he could say anything about anybody and get away with it no matter what the potential consequences might be (which I doubt), he gave away $2 million in assets for what he knew would be nothing.

Now I am not a poor man but I sure do not have a spare $2 million lying around that I can just give away like Peladeau did. And do you know where a nice chunk of that $2 million will go? You guessed it, right into the pocket of the unsuitable Geoff Molson. I’m sure he’ll be prepared to suffer more diatribes from Peladeau in return for similar compensation.

Well separatist, Quebecois voters, is this the man you want to be your representative in the Quebec Legislature? Someone who cuts his own throat and dooms his own cause before a single shovel is dug to build the new Quebec City Videotron? Someone who betrayed the hopes of every Quebec Nordiques fan? Someone who might give away $2 million or more of your hard earned tax dollars for nothing? Someone who makes unnecessary powerful enemies like Molson and maybe every other governor on the NHL Board? Someone who will sure attract American and English Canadian tourism and investment to your province like a smelly skunk?

Most Quebecois separatists claim that they are hard working, neglected people who want to get out of Canada, people who always get the short end of the stick from “English Canadians”. Well one of your number just gave away $2 million for what he knew would probably amount to nothing, including a portion of it into the pocket of someone he may regard as his archenemy. Unless there is some brilliant strategy in all this that has yet to show itself, that I am unaware of, it sure is a funny way of demonstrating one’s competence before voters.

Meanwhile the NHL is publicly pretending that they turned down Quebecor’s bid because of the low Canadian dollar and the small Quebec City market. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are rejecting $500 million because Peladeau is an unsuitable owner.

Make no mistake Gary Bettman and every NHL governor wants that expansion money. They want Quebec City back in the NHL. Bettman is not going to make a tour in 2010 of the three cities that lost their teams in the 1990s, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford, and offer them terms for readmission and then reject one of them when it complies with him. He is not going to hobnob with the Quebec City mayor and the Quebec Provincial Premier, tell them to spend nearly $400 million tax dollars on an arena, and then make a fool of them by turning them down. His own reputation and that of the NHL is on the line.

Right now behind the scenes he is trying to find a suitable owner for a Quebec City team. I am betting on Mario Lemieux or someone similar to be that man. I think that once Bettman realized that Peladeau was unsuitable, he went to Lemieux and asked him to sell his shares in the Pittsburgh Penguins and then front a bid to be the new Nordiques owner. Time will tell if I am right.

Meanwhile I just shake my head in disbelief when I think of how Peladeau can give away $2 million for nothing and not blink an eye. Hey Pierre, you can call me a chimpanzee or worse so long as I get the same amount of money you gave to your archenemy Geoff Molson. You really do belong in the world of North American professional sports where such unreal things happen all the time.

Will The Oilers Be As Good As Their New Arena?

A milestone will occur in Edmonton when the new NHL season starts and the Oilers say goodbye to Northlands Coliseum, built during their WHA days and the home of the Gretzky glory era, and move into the new Rogers Place, hopefully to start a successful McDavid period.

There is no problem with the new arena. With 2,000 more seats than its predecessor and state-of-the=art technology, the Oilers future in Edmonton is secure for a long time. In my lifetime, Northlands Coliseum has gone from Canada’s newest, most modern NHL arena when the Oilers joined the league in 1980, to its oldest home rink. Along with the soon hopefully-to-be-restored Quebec Nordiques, Edmonton will enjoy the most modern sports facility in Canada. This leaves Calgary’s Saddledome, itself not that old, as Canada’s oldest NHL arena.

But will the team match its new facility? Along with Tampa Bay and Montreal, Edmonton made the most significant off season moves trading star forward Taylor Hall to New Jersey in return for defenseman Adam Larsson. They have also signed free agent forward Milan Lucic from the Los Angeles Kings.

With all its bottom finishes and high draft choices, Edmonton should have been in the playoffs, if not a Stanley Cup contender long ago. But even with the limited service of the injured McDavid, said to be Sidney Crosby’s successor on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain, the Oilers still finished near the bottom last year. For the past half decade and more, this has been the NHL’s worst team for underachievement.

It is true that the Oilers’ worst problem is defensive help, and hopefully Larsson will be enough to finally make the team a contender, but the price was steep. Taylor Hall was by far the best of the high underachieving draft picks and along with McDavid, might have been the nucleus of a 1-2 punch the way the champion Penguins were built around Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It might have been better if General Manager Peter Chiarelli had packaged together a bunch of the worst underachievers, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov, and Eberle instead. But the Devils were shrewd enough to ask for Hall as the price and Chiarelli complied.

So what is the final verdict to be? In my opinion, unless McDavid stays healthy for a full season, the Oilers are actually worse than before. I don’t think Larsson by himself is enough to turn the Oilers around defensively. The Oilers needed defensive players, not a defensive player. The Oilers had better hope that the star underachievers rediscover who they once were supposed to be and that somewhere on the rest of the team, some unexpected sleepers show the talent and determination to turn this team finally around.

As for the acquisition of Lucic, ex-Boston Bruin General Manager Chiarelli retrieving an old employee… Well the Los Angeles Kings signed Lucic to return them to the Stanley Cup Final and instead they were eliminated in the first round by the San Jose Sharks. So they are not shedding tears that Lucic is gone.

So my final prediction is that if I am in Edmonton, I’ll go to an NHL game to admire the new arena, for apart from McDavid (if he is fortunate to stay healthy for once) there will be little else to enjoy during the NHL season again.