Accusations have emerged in B.C. media that Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis is responsible for the demise of long-time radio hockey analyst Tom Larscheid.
Announced last week, the retirement of the 70-year-old had been hinted at since the Canucks' NHL season ended in May - but the decision only was made final after TEAM 1040 program director Robert Gray met with Larscheid last month.
Yet, reports claim that Gillis, miffed at Larscheid, pulled the trigger on his departure after more than three decades calling Canucks games. Not so, Gray says.
"We do the hiring and retiring of our on-air guys," Gray told Usual Suspects via e-mail. "Dave Tomlinson has always been our guy in the succession plan for [Larscheid]when the timing made sense to make that move. From our strategic planning sessions this summer, we decided it made sense for us to make that transition now - and the Canucks blessed our broadcast plan for the coming year."
At the time of Larscheid's departure, Gillis issued a statement saying: "For over 30 years Tom Larscheid brought his unmistakable enthusiasm and passion for Canucks hockey to radio broadcasts each and every night. … Throughout the careers of Stan Smyl, Trevor Linden, Markus Naslund, Roberto Luongo, the Sedin twins and many more, Tom has been an integral part of Canucks hockey and the city of Vancouver since he first began broadcasting games in the 1970s."
The rumour mill tried to create a different impression. Gillis denies the allegations, and says anyone who'd bothered to call him would have learned the truth.
"The TEAM 1040 have been excellent partners," Gillis told Usual Suspects, "and the Vancouver Canucks would never presume to tell them their business. They're the professionals. Anyone who says we control the hiring and firing of the TEAM's personnel is clearly unaware of how the business works."
LIFE IMITATES ART?
Perhaps TSN knew something the other night when it broadcast The Replacements, a movie about a rag-tag football team during a labour dispute. As the 2010 NFL season kicks off this Sunday - Dallas Cowboys v. Cincinnati Bengals in the annual Hall of Fame game on NBC from Canton, Ohio - networks and fans are wondering if the 2011 season will be played by replacement players or even be cancelled by a labour dispute.
The issues in this pending public relations disaster can best be summed up in the recent $50-million (U.S.) in guaranteed money given to rookie quarterback Sam Bradford by the St. Louis Rams. Owners are tired of paying more money to untested rookies than they do to veteran stars. They also want to lower the overall percentage of revenues paid to players. An 18-game schedule (up from the current 16) is on their to-do list as well.
The league's huge TV deals (valued at over $4-billion a year) will be a tipping point in the labour haggling. In preparation for its showdown, the NFL recently renegotiated TV deals that guarantee payment from the networks even if there is no 2011 season. This will help them maintain stadiums and staff in the absence of a season.
The NFL Players Association, meanwhile, filed a complaint accusing the league and owners of acting in bad faith by structuring TV contract extensions that would pay them while not paying player salaries.
We can just hear the excitement in your voices for another bun fight between billionaires and millionaires. Owners are no doubt emboldened by the NFLPA's lack of resolve in previous labour disputes - and the collapse of the NHL Players' Association in its 2004-05 showdown with owners.
For an NHL connection, look no further than the NFL engaging lawyer Bob Batterman - the labour hotshot who orchestrated the owner's side on the hockey lockout - as its chief strategist.
REDZONE HEADED NORTH?
The hottest NFL television commodity last season was the RedZone channel available on DirecTV in the United States for purchasers of the NFL Sunday Ticket. This channel surfed the league's action, going to games only when a team's offence entered the red zone (20-yard line and in) for a scoring attempt. A boon to gamblers and fantasy football players, it quickly overshadowed regular game coverage for many viewers.
So when will RedZone channel come to Canada?
We asked Bell ExpressVu, one of nine carriers for NFL Sunday Ticket in Canada, but were told they don't discuss hypothetical business moves.
Too bad. It's the catchiest thing since … oh, s'mores.