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On Tampering, the Media, and Conspiracy Theories

Tampering is a pretty serious charge in sports. Teams can barely keep their executives and players from honouring their contracts as things stand. Real Madrid are notorious for putting out a shopping list of players that they desire during every transfer window regardless of whether that players has just signed an eight year deal (Cesc Fabregas) or if he is a whining rover player that is universally hated outside of the loathsome confines of the Republic of Wankunia (Cristiano Ronaldo). At least in the latter case it's ironic since Slur Alex has never been one to shy away from employing every dirty trick in the book to gain an advantage.

Even a sainted team like our beloved Maple Leafs can be smeared with a similar slander by anonymous members of the press. I mentioned this in the FTB a couple of days ago but it deserves a better examination but Mirtle published the transcript of Gary Bettman's State of the Union address and it contained what can only be described as a direct comment on the league's credibility as well as the Toronto Maple Leafs' integrity. Now, I won't pretend that the club will be wearing white on its wedding day but read the relevant passage:

Q. I was wondering if one of your teams were to hire a general manager who, say, stays there for a year and then conveniently moves away to have his friend come in as general manager and he's under contract now, would that constitute collusion?

COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: That sounds like a pretty convoluted scenario.

Q. Not that convoluted in your League. It might happen.

COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: The answer is, if everybody is - first of all, people who sign contracts can be held to them by the other party to the contract. And there's nothing wrong with that.

And if tampering - collusion is not the right characterization. If there's tampering going on, ultimately there are no secrets in this world. We will get to the bottom of it. And I'm no fan of tampering. And when it happens, it gets punished severely.

Q. What is the punishment for tampering at the GM level?

COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: I don't have the constitution in front of me. My guess is it's quite severe. It probably involves, for the club, the loss of significant amounts of money and draft picks. And for the person involved, it could involve fines and it could involve suspensions.

I mentioned it before but I would kill to know who asked these questions. The first question is pretty funny because it's a media member commenting on a media members convoluted conspiracy theory that has no basis in fact. I guess that's called meta but I am not really sure how to use that word. Anyway, the scenario that has been painted, with imaginary paper and invisible ink, is that Nonis was only interviewing in Toronto as an assistant to Cliff Fletcher and that Burke would come in a year when his contract with the Ducks was done. Now, unless the Leafs go and tell Burke that that is the plan how is that collusion? Sounds like it's just solid planning in pursuit of a free agent. The team would be trying to build an environment that would be enticing to Burke. It's basically the same thing that the Raptors did when they re-signed all of Wince Carter's buddies and gave his loud mouth mother a parking spot. That's not collusion unless you ask Damien Cox. His blog post today, other than stealing some minutes of my life, basically decides to believe the conspiracy theory while ignoring all other facts or, in other words, it was par for the course. MF37 has a brilliant takedown of the article which could otherwise read "who will rid me of this useless columnist?"* 

The second comment is one that I am surprised Gary didn't attack more vigorously because it insinuates that there is a tendency in the NHL's head offices to interfere in franchises' decisions. I am guessing that this stems from Balsillie's failed bid for the Penguins and Craig Leopold's subsequent purchase of the Minnesota Wild. Come to think of it, on that basis alone, if you bought into that conspiracy theory you would be forced to assume that Bettman would want Burke to stay in Anaheim since it's the American market.

Lowetide commented on Bettman's response with regards to contracts and, as an Oiler fan that saw Pronger leave so quickly, is glad to see that honouring contracts was the focus of the reply. The comments follow the belief that since the media mentions tampering that it must be happening and some are the typical "haha" Nelson variety (not sure why it's funny that the Leafs are actually conducting a logical search for a GM but whatever) but a good question is raised: Knowing that Burke wanted to discuss the Leafs job and that he had yet to sign a long-term extension to a contract that ends after this season why deny Burke?

Anaheim isn't Toronto but we all saw the treatment that JFJ got when he was a lame duck GM. While he acknowledged that trades were discussed nothing was ever consumated and you can only assume that at least part of that was reluctance on the part of higher ups to approve any large moves so what good would Burke be able to do for Anaheim in the upcoming season?

The last part, about punishment, is pretty ironic because Ken Campbell seems to think that there is precedent that would prevent the Ducks from extorting anything from the Leafs' for the media's attempt to play soothsayer. The article also notes that not only is Bettman upset at the Leafs for conducting their search so publicly (and transparently?) but shouldn't be he upset at himself for not having a league policy for just such a situation? In the NFL a team that hires someone under contract with another team has to pay compensation which leads to hilarious situations like the Chiefs send the Jets a draft pick in order to hire Herm Edwards. Not to mention that there is no proof that the Leafs have done anything untoward. Wouldn't it be great if some member of the media that hasn't been spoonfed these leaks (if they exist) decided to track down what was going on behind the curtain?

Chad Kilger

Not that all conspiracy theories have to be so far-reaching. When word came that the Leafs had been denied access to Joe Nieuwendyk despite his resignation from the club I assumed it was just Jacques' bitterness from his failures in ottawa. A buddy e-mailed me today wondering if maybe it had something to do with the Leafs getting a draft pick out of the Panthers for the aforementioned muttonchopped one that never showed up because of the nebulous "personal problems".

Despite veiled swipes by Cox and Steve "The Leafs never should have hired an attractive masseuse" Simmons the story behind Kilger's problems never became public. Kilger mentioned that he wanted things kept private and I tend to agree that a players' private life is their own but if, as Cox asserted in an e-mail, this story reflected poorly on Kilger, hindered his performance on the ice, and was such a big scoop why, a couple of months on, has no intrepid reporter bothered investigating the oddest circumstances surrounding a players' departure from Toronto in my memory? I guess they'd hate to lose the access that produces the gems that Cox and Simmons churn out daily.

*Note: This is not meant to be a call for an assassination attempt. I am not Hilary Clinton. I, along with all rational Leaf fans, just wish The Star would give us anyone else instead of Cox. Or Di Manno. Or Feschuk.