Ed Snider has spent most of the last 45 years concentrating on turning the Philadelphia Flyers into a franchise which coaxes love and loyalty from its fan base and a demands a yearly windfall of cash from faithful season-ticket holders.
He’s also crafted a sizeable reputation across the continent as defender of the Philly Faith against the outside forces of the rest of hockey and as the Paterfamilias of the local hockey scene through his Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, whose successful projects have included the rehabilitation and restoration of rinks around the Delaware Valley.
But now, the 79-year-old Grand Old Man of the NHL’s Board of Governors finds himself in a real bind amid renewed talks between the league and its players’ union today.
On Saturday, the Daily News’ intrepid beat writer, Frank Seravalli, revealed that Snider is not pleased with how long this latest lockout has progressed and may be the head of a small coterie of colleagues who are angling to end this 64-day stalemate because they can’t possibly win it in the grand terms originally presented.
Later that afternoon — on a weekend, mind you — the boss of bosses was motivated enough to issue a hasty statement on the Flyers’ official site which rebuked the report:
“An article appearing in today’s Philadelphia Daily News is absolutely erroneous,” Snider said. “I am a solid supporter of National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman and the League in this unfortunate situation.
“Like all fans, players, owners and League officials, I am extremely hopeful that an agreement can be reached and we can eventually be playing hockey again soon. League rules prevent me and all owners from making any comments on the labor negotiations. I will continue to honor that and not make any further comments.”
Say what you want about the young Holy Ghost Prep and Penn State grad’s fitness for his post, or his knowledge of the game, but he came up big by simply doing his job: mined sources for information nobody would otherwise have or report, which provided key revelations and perspective on a situation on which the public would otherwise be in the dark.
The fact that Snider even decided to release a public counter-statement should tell you that there is obviously something to the piece which rings true. Snider is not a man to be trifled with, certainly not by a fresh-faced kid of any station, and he’s been around long enough to know when and how he has to make a move when someone else gets the drop on him.
Like it or not, Seravalli has painted Snider into a corner. For the moment at least.
In revealing that sources indicate Snider’s displeasure with the off-kilter Groupthink which precipitated this latest work stoppage from the league’s 30 owners, he has unwittingly cast the longest-serving member of the BOG in the same positive light we viewed him after his role in ending the 1994-95 impasse was revealed.
But in forcing Snider to issue a denial which squarely placed him in solidarity with Gary Bettman and the National Hockey League — whom a majority of fans place the majority of blame for the second lockout in eight years — Snider might have receded further into the malevolent fold of his fellow businesspersons than he already is.
Such is the disparity in weight between Snider and Seravalli’s respective reputations, that it’s going to be easy to discredit someone who may not be the most respected mainstream scribe in this city.
Still, in bizarre fashion, by having the report published, however much or little truth there is, Seravalli probably elevated Snider’s stock in the eyes of a hungry fan base anxiously waiting for hockey. By thoroughly disputing that report, Snider, on the other hand, most likely hurt himself in the long run while covering his ass in the short term with the content of the statement.
Whatever side Snider is taking as the 2012-13 season slides further and further into oblivion, remember this: Snider is simply doing what a smart and shrewd businessman of any age and stature might do — in so many cliches, backing the right horse at the right time by reading the tea leaves.
Of course he’d be behind Bettman and his public pronunciation of a lockout if a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached. It’s important for organizational solidarity if the issue at hand is greatly affecting others with whom he conducts business.
And of course he’d back reasonable efforts to regain footing if that strategy fails, especially so if that gambit is costing him unplayed games, millions in lost revenues and lost sponsorships and worst of all, any reduction in the warm regard his own fans have for the man personally and for the brand he created.
To be noted is that Snider has nothing to fear from an internal perspective. Bettman would be beyond stupid to harm one of his biggest earners, and any fine, particularly the $1 million penalty for public outcry, doesn’t amount to more than a nuisance.
The ripples have spread outward. Bettman himself has been forced to respond, telling the Winnipeg Free Press on Monday, “It was a fabrication. Ed Snider is the one who told me about the article when he found out about it and he was terribly upset. He’s in Europe and it was his idea to put out a statement. Anyone who doubts the resolve of ownership is either uninformed or (being) intentionally misleading.”
Ultimately, what we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Snider might have been caught with his figurative pants down, but he’s telling us we’re too blinded by the darkness to have seen anything for certain. Too bad he can’t own up to it, because we certainly need to have a ray of hope and a laugh to carry us through what may be the bleakest times to come.