Each week, The Reporters put their thumbs out to the good and the bad in the world of sports. This week, they discuss NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, the Calgary Flames, the Montreal Canadiens and Norfolk Admirals head coach Jon Cooper's inability to land an NHL job.
Dave Naylor, TSN: My thumb is up to NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr for his decision to include 31 players in his bargaining team, while inviting any and all who care to be part of the process to join in. Fehr's approach comes from the years in which he helped the Major League Baseball Players' Association maintain its position as the strongest union in all of professional sports; one that never crumbled and always appeared to be in sync with its leadership under Fehr. Duplicating that approach will make it far more difficult for the hockey owners to employ the strategy that worked so well for them last time: divide and conquer.
Steve Simmons, Sun Media: My thumb is down to the Calgary Flames for the surprising signing of defenceman Dennis Wideman. It's not that I wouldn't have traded for him or signed him. It's the five years, $25 million, no-trade clause part that I don't understand about this arrangement. Maybe they have him confused. Maybe they think he's a star. Wideman is, let's be nice, an average NHL defenceman. He's better offensively than he is defensively. But if you watched the Washington Capitals during the Stanley Cup playoffs, he was no better than the fifth defenceman on that team and often the least dependable in his own end. You don't pay star money and give star term for a guy on his fifth team in seven years.
Michael Farber, Sports Illustrated: My thumb is down to the Montreal Canadiens because Mathieu Darche will be eligible for free agency today. For a relative pittance, Montreal could have locked up Darche, the conscience of the team. Instead they lowballed the 35-year-old winger with an offer of a two-way deal that also included a cut from his current $700,000 at the NHL level. There are more effective fourth liners on the market but not one will treat it an as an honor to play for the Canadiens like Darche did. There is scant room for sentiment in pro hockey, but there should always be room for a man of character.
Dave Hodge, TSN: With all the coaches who are hired to replace all the coaches who are fired, I have to wonder why there's not an NHL job for one Prince George, BC's Jon Cooper, and so I say thumbs down to the fact that Cooper's sensational record with the Calder Cup champion Norfolk Admirals didn't vault him to the NHL. The numbers said it -- the Admirals won 70 regular season and playoff games and they lost only 21 outright. Those who watched the Tampa Bay farm team dominate the opposition saw Cooper's work reflected on the ice. And to those who have followed his coaching career from its start in the U.S. junior ranks, last season was hardly a surprise. He'll get to the NHL, you'd think, and he should get the next available job, you'd think. And it's bound to come soon. The way the NHL spits out coaches, that we know.