The National Hockey League is witholding commitment to furnish players for the Canadian and United States teams at the World Ice Hockey Championships in Prague in April. If the NHL refuses to participate, and there is an outside chance it will, then all international hockey games involving the NHL would probably terminate.
The problem areas involve direct competition for public attention with the Stanley Cup playoffs, injury risk to players, absence of remuneration to the NHL and, according to league president John Ziegler, offers made to players of teams still in contention for the playoffs on an if-you-don't make-it basis.
Some members of the board of governors are trying to persuade their colleagues to diminish the bidding for Swedish stars Andres Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, whose contracts with Winnipeg of the World Hockey Association expire this year.
Asked if he considered the published bid of $450,000 per year per player (by the New York Rangers) realistic, Ziegler said, "Certainly not. Player costs have risen in the past few years and it is not in our interest to have labor costs take such a large percentage of our gate receipts."
The vast difference between NHL and minors can best be illustrated by a look at the top three scorers in the American Hockey League, Gord Brooks. Bob Collyard and Andre Peloffy are all former Capitals, found wanting in the big league.
George Gund III is committed to a three-year plan for making the Cleveland Barons a viable organization. In the process, Gund figures to make a small fortune - out of his current large fortune.
The Barons, although playing very well, have performed before announced Richfield Coliseum crowds as low as 2,074. A recent three-game home stand against attractive opposition - the Islanders, Buffalo and Toronto - drew a total of 8,711.
Washington team president Peter O'Malley likes to talk of "the Capitals' family," but nobody apparently can top the New York Islanders in that department. After winger Michel Bergeron was obtained from Detroit, and Islander press release stated that "Bergeron and his new bride, Nicole, will report to the Islanders immediately."
A flurry Sunday between Detroit's Dennis Hextall and the Capitals' Gord Smith sent Hextall to the penalty box, where he promised, according to previous sin-bin occupant Bryant Watson, "to weld Smitty's helmet to his head."
Watson broke up into visible laughter at the statement and he explained later, "It was a nervous release type of thing.I was really geared up and my nerves were going and at that moment it just struck me as something really funny."
The NHL is looking into remarks made by Boston coach Don Cherry after Sunday night's 3-2 loss to Cleveland. Cherry was quoted as accusing officials of influencing the outcome of games. Also, according to executive vice-president Brian O'Neill, the league is investigating Cherry's attempt to assault Ron Wicks after the second period of Thursday's game with Washington.
Ziegler, on the job only since August, is already the subject of grumbling among conservative club owners. The principal complaint is his approval of deals between NHL and World Hockey Association teams. The dissident owners, unmindful of the legal implications of a rejection of the ply don't want any reminder of the WHA's existence.
Everybody recognizes the need for realignment and scheduling changes, but the subject was not discussed at the meeting here. Instead, there will be a future session to start work on a revised structure. There is increasing demand for more games within a team's own division, but nobody is willing to give up home games with good draws like Montreal and Philadelphia.