I see where the NHL is pairing with Esquire Magazine to celebrate the start of the new season, with a party in downtown Manhattan on Tuesday night. The celebrities including a pair of supermodels (Carin Coster and Camilla Thorrson) plus a raft of soap stars, including Michelle Ray Smith and Caitlin Van Zandt of Guiding Light and Thorsten Kaye of All My Children. That latter inclusion is singularly appropriate because a surprising number of NHL players actually watch the day-time soaps, mostly when they're on the road, between the time they catch an afternoon nap and head to the rink for that evening's game. Once, during an off day in Los Angeles, Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk - then with the Calgary Flames - paid a visit to the set of All My Children, their soap opera of choice, to mingle with the stars, and it was like kids in a candy store.
NHL luminaries for the Esquire party include the commissioner, Gary Bettman, the deputy commissioner, Bill Daly, plus members of the New York Islanders (Bill Guerin, Mike Comrie), the New Jersey Devils (Patrik Elias) and some as yet-to-be-announced members of the Buffalo Sabres. Curiously, there are no New York Rangers' players listed as possible attendees, even though the Rangers boast two of the NHL's most attractive free-agent acquisitions, Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, at least one of whom (Gomez) is an unbelievably great talker.
One wonders if the Rangers' absenteeism is merely an oversight, or has something to do with that curious decision by Madison Square Garden (MSG) to file a lawsuit against the NHL last Friday for violating antitrust laws and acting like an illegal cartel. According to the Associated Press report, MSG - the Rangers' owners - filed the suit in U.S. District Court because the NHL was planning to fine the organization $100,000 per day starting Friday if the company didn't give the league complete control over the team's web site, or its other promotions. The dispute has been simmering since last spring, when the Rangers tried to make some of their merchandise available through their own website and by making tickets available to subscribers in similar fashion and were blocked from doing so by the league.
According to the lawsuit, MSG withdrew its efforts during last year's playoffs after the league imposed a $100,000 per day fine - and when the Rangers refused to pay, they had $200,000 withheld from third-party payments (likely television revenues) that were otherwise due the organization from the league.
Given that MSG president Jim Dolan seems to like a fight - how else to explain the fact that Isiah Thomas/New York Knicks/sexual harassment case ever went to trial in the first place? - it promises to be a nasty fight and will call into question how far a team can go on its own to generate revenues and how much falls under the umbrella of the league and its so-called partnership with the players, a primary tenet of the last collective bargaining agreement. The first visible sign of the cold war developing between the NHL and one of its sexiest franchises seems to be the absence of Gomez or Jaromir Jagr or Henrik Lundqvist at Esquire's ultimate bachelor pad, which incidentally is described as a triplex penthouse with an astonishing view of Central Park and Midtown - perfect, in other words, for the rich and single professional athlete.
There may be more serious and far-reaching implications further down the road.