The Canadian Nuclear Society and the National Hockey League are conducting annual meetings this week at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. One can only hope the nuclear folks are devoting more energy to progress than those who freeze pucks.
The general mood of "If we can't solve it this week, it's a long summer" is not a popular one with Peter O'Malley, president of the Washington Capitals.
"You can't jeopardize the other franchises by putting things off and letting the schedule hangup continue," O'Malley said Today. "Fifteen per cent of our customers come in group sales and you can't wait until Oct. 1 to sell tickets for an Oct. 5 game."
O'Malley, who would also like to finalize the Capitals' 15-game television schedule, has a date next week with Brian O'Neill, executive director of the NHL and the league's schedule maker, hoping he can get things moving. But if merger or retrenchment remain possibilities after these meetings, the schedule cannot be finalized.
Despite his impatience, O'Malley is finding this visit more pleasurable than some in the past.
"Two years ago I felt like a leper," O'Malley said. "I'd wave to somebody and he'd disappear around a corner. If somebody did talk to me, he'd say something like, 'Well, are you going to be able to operate next year.'
"Now everything is positive. People come up and talk about our increase in attendance, and our agreement with Hershey, and our TV package. Our marketing setup has everybody looking up to us."
O'Malley is on the promerger side of the burgeoning dispute over whether to welcome World Series Association members into the brotherhood.
"I have a presumption for it if the terms are satisfactory," O'Malley said with the politician's care for phrasing. But he also endorsed the statement of Atlanta's Thomas Cousins, who said, "Its going to happen sometime - next year, two years, 15 years. It's just a question of how much money you want to lose in the meantime."
Toronto's Harold Ballard took the opposite view, saying, "There won't be any merger. There are seven or eight against it. Why become partners with guys leaving a sinking ship? Four teams here are in trouble. Let's put our own teams back on their feet. The league has never been in worse shape."
Alan Eagleson, executive director of the NHL Players' Association, said, "Before or simultaneously with expansion the league has to settle the problems of Pittsburgh, Atlanta, St. Louis, Cleveland and Denver. There are 100 jobs at stake and we need assurances they won't disappear. The credibility of the league can't afford a midseason collapse, and it could result unless these teams are stabilized or given the opportunity to close the gap with the Montreal Canadiens."
Eagleson said the NHL's most critical problem was "finding ways to get people in the buildings." The Players' Association, which met in Bermuda last week, proposed several ways to accomplish this, including equalization of competition through an 18-player list and $100 waiver transfers for all others, a wild-card playoff setup and realignment into two nine-team division with most games against divisional foes.
Under the players' proposal, Washington would be grouped with the two New York teams. Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
The players unanimously endorsed a number of sensible rules changes, including one to eliminate a two-line offside if the player taking the pass follows the puck over the red line. This would put a greater emphasis on speed and mobility and eliminate a lot of whistles. As an indicator of response to the players' suggestions, it was probably accurate, because it lost, 10-8.
"Montreal was for it," said Washington general manager Max McNab, a strong proponent, "and that's a problem. Some teams are automatically against anything if Montreal's for it."
Eagleson, as usual, was less diplomatic.
"It's too bad the rules committee meeting can't be on TV," Eagleson said, "and let the vested interests e heard. They're making decisions on whether this will help Montreal or this won't help Toronto, instead of thinking what will help hockey."
The intraleague draft, scheduled Tuesday, has been indefinitely postponed until the governors have wrestled with the other equalization proposals. There's a chance the amateur draft, set for June 14, will be put back, too, unless some decision are reached here.
Eagleson has invited the owners to meet with the player representatives in Chicago on June 23-24 to hammer out changes to the collective bargaining agreement.
"We have to get the 18 governors and 18 player representatives in a room and work things out," Eagleson said. "That's what we did in 1975 to get the collective bargaining agreement."
In that tradition, Eagleson and Montreal general manager Sam Pollack departed for a private talk.
Earlier, asked about hockey's difficulties, Pollock said, "From Montreal's point of view things aren't too bad right now." And, on the possibility of Montreal's helping the have-nots: "It's not going to happen. This is like any other business. You don't give half your staff and half your circulation to a failing newspaper."
Pollack is not opposed to expansion.
"I'd like to see anybody come in who can help the league," he said. "My philosophy has always been that it doesn't cost anything to listen. Nothing's forever and ever."
Except the discussions at NHL governors' meetings.