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The Globe and Mail

Iron Mike’s keys to post-lockout locker-room peace

Mike Keenan (L) yells at a referee in the third period of an NHL game in Calgary, Alberta, March 29, 2008


The NHL lockout has left many in support roles without a job for the moment. That includes former NHL coach/general manager Mike Keenan, who has returned to the media side as a TV analyst until/if another chance comes his way to coach.

For now, Keenan is doing a series of charitable events between his homes in Midland, Ont., and the Florida Keys while waiting for the lockout to end and the panel work to start.

Keenan knows a thing or two about what will happen when the collective agreement is signed. When the 1995-95 lockout ended, Keenan was coaching with the St. Louis Blues; in 2004-05, he was GM of the Florida Panthers.

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Tempering the passion of players who were more outspoken during the labour strife is often the first step for a coach or GM, Keenan says.

"For some, verbalizing their feelings can go on for the rest of the year," he said via phone from Midland. "Others are quite passive.

"I know from watching and reading as this process takes place that [San Jose defenceman] Dan Boyle saying it's only a few owners on the inside with the commissioner, and the rest want to play. There's always something disgruntled verbalizing his take. That can go on for a while with some players."

Keenan found a difference between the GM's role and coaching when players returned. "As a manager, you're between the players and the owner. You may or may not agree [with the settlement], but you have to massage their acceptance. Some are pretty hardcore and don't trust management and ownership. Others are ambivalent, they don't really care one way or the other. It's [about] getting the understanding that no one one wins in a strike or lockout situation.

"From the coach's perspective, you have to garner the players' trust," Keenan said. "I never found that animosity surfaced that often in the process of putting the team back together. Some may like the settlement, some may not. But they're professional enough and competitive enough to know they have a job to do or someone else will take it from them. That competitive instincts surfaces.

"There's always a balance you have to strike. At the end of the day, it's what I always say: 'Owners own, managers manage, coaches coach and players play. Everyone do your own job.' If you get players back to that, they're pretty easy to work with when things settle."


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Media assigned (sentenced?) to cover the labour nuances of the lockout have been comparing the NHL's latest offer Tuesday and the NHL Players' Association response Wednesday with the most recent settlements in the NFL and NBA (both in 2011).

The hope is to find some indicators in those deals that point the way for the NHL to get back to work.

While there is some symmetry to the NBA solution (it split 50/50 on revenues) there's an inherent danger in reading too much into the NFL model, particularly when it comes to revenue sharing and maintaining parity.

The bulk of the NFL's revenues are league generated from its massive TV contracts (more than $5-billion a year starting in 2014), allowing the head office to "share" the wealth equally among teams.

Gary Bettman wishes. The NHL's revenues are predominately generated at the team level. Asking richer teams to share money earned locally is a lot more problematic, especially when that money is used by smaller markets to sign free agents.

It's one of the reasons many large markets in the NHL want to disqualify small markets from using their revenue sharing to pay players.

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On parity, the NFL does everything it can to punish excellence, forcing successful teams to shed established stars via a salary cap, giving them difficult schedules, etc. Again this levelling works in the NFL, whose popularity is massively affected by betting and the presence of a huge revenue pool at the league level.

The NHL's mirroring this system (salary cap cuts, universal draft, dumbing down skill) is to assure the Stanley Cup dream is evenly spread across the 30 teams. But the NHL's revenues are disproportionately generated by the Canadian and major U.S. markets. While Green Bay Packers can be said to contribute evenly to NFL revenues via TV, the same can't be said for Phoenix Coyotes or Nashville Predators.

Having small markets win a proportionate share of Cups actually depresses hockey related revenues. What the NHL needs for financial success is for smaller markets to win two of every 10 titles, not five or six. You can't get there using the NFL's punitive model.

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