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The Globe and Mail

Dowbiggin: NHL spin doctors forced to play defence as critics begin to pile on

Two fruitless days of mediation represents the latest breakdown in the NHL's spin cycle.

Controlling the spin was integral to the NHL surviving its previous lockout in 2004-'05. In the years before that lockout, the league conditioned its customers and fans to the idea that it needed to fix its business model. Using a largely acquiescent mainstream media– many of them partners of the league– the NHL sold its message effectively. Dissenters were called out, and the league came back stronger than ever with fans and clients.

If the NHL scored a hat trick last time, it's in the process of scoring an own goal this lockout, losing control of the narrative in both MSM and social media. This week alone has brought a number of damaging stories that the NHL has been forced to defend.

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The most damning blow from the corporate side came Wednesday in a Washington Post story that quoted Ed O'Hara, a senior partner of New York-based SME Branding, a firm that helped devise the NHL's recovery strategy in 2005.

"The league has become known for lying to its fans, to its sponsors," said O'Hara,. "I don't know how you come back from a prolonged stoppage a second time because it is unprecedented. Brands are built on promises. In this case, the promised experiences of seeing the greatest athletes in the world. That's all gone now."

This mirrors comments we've heard from the Canadian corporate side, albeit in much stronger language. O'Hara is suggesting the NHL isn't merely burning bridges, it's tearing up the road and polluting the river.

New kids on the block

While the NHL's sponsors seethe, two other stories from reputable sources suggested that there is discord in the owners' group. Joe Haggerty, Boston Bruins insider for wrote a column suggesting that Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, believed the architect of the owners' scorched-earth policy, had dismissed a representative of the Winnipeg Jets who had tried to urge moderation in the CBA dispute at a meeting of the NHL Board of Governors. According to Haggerty, Jacobs reprimanded the Winnipeg representative "as one of the 'new kids on the block' and informed him that he would know when he was allowed to speak in the NHL board room."

This followed a column by Philadelphia Flyers beat writer Frank Seravalli, who wrote that Ed Snider, the enormously influential owner of the Flyers since 1967, had also been urging a softer tone toward players in order to get the season underway.

Both stories produced vigorous denials from the league, with Jacobs and Snider calling the stories fabrications. (NHL management figures can be fined $1-million for commenting without the permission of commissioner Gary Bettman on league business) Both writers and their publications stood behind the stories.

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The veracity of the stories will play out in time. What can be said is that, in its bulldozer blitz to get yet another new CBA, the NHL has lost the audience. They can and probably will get their own way again this time. But as Ed O'Hara says, something very valuable has been lost to the league in its drive to crush the NHLPA again.

Tweet nothings

"Jonah Keri ‏@ jonahkeri What a coincidence. I played 6 Expos numbers for Powerball. They repossessed my house and moved it to Guam."

Toronto undefeated

It was a good night for the Toronto Raptors. They didn't play. Of course, Brian Burke gets to say that every night lately.

Inside football

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There are jillions of NFL talk shows on the TV and radio dial where experts dissect the league. The best by far, however, is the NFL Radio's Moving The Chains with Pat Kirwan and Tim Ryan on SiriusXM Ch. 88. If you're a fan of real football, not betting lines and fantasy leagues, this is the program to listen every weekday from 3-7 P.M. ET.

How good is it? They take phone calls, the radio equivalent of swallowing razor blades, and make it INTERESTING.

Ryan is a former NFL defensive lineman (who does games for FOX TV & Radio) and Kirwan is a former NFL executive. Nothing unusual in that. ESPN has a million guys like them. What works is their attention to detail, not yukking it up Terry Bradshaw-style to fill time. Their research is impeccable, they break down every team in the league in detail, and they're respectful of even the most deranged phone callers.

Monday they spent five minutes discussing the lack of competent offensive lineman in the NFL. The broke down the blocking techniques of Miami's offensive tackle Jake Long (whether he's a bent-knee guy or an upright mauler), his contractual status with the Dolphins and how he's been affected by the rotating door of coaches on the Dolphins.

Yes it's inside football. But it's the best. Give it a try. / @dowbboy

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