After the Ottawa Senators forfeited a first-round pick for a failure to disclose Evgenii Dadonov's 10-team no-trade clause when shipping him to Vegas, it would've been easy for new owner Michael Andlauer to say nothing.
A press release about an unfortunate error and a promise to do better under new leadership would've been considered sufficient by most. Instead, his team's general manager is out and Andlauer tore into the NHL for its handling of the Dadonov and Shane Pinto cases in a press conference on Wednesday.
He criticized the league for failing to advise him on the situations before he bought the team, suggesting it prioritized ensuring the seller (and the NHL) got the best price possible. He questioned why he inherited a mess he felt should've been cleaned up earlier. He even stood behind Pinto with a surprising criticism of the way gambling is being marketed.
"They have so many more pressures than any other generation," Andlauer said. "And you look at a young man who’s making millions of dollars and represents millions of people in a community, but is 21 years old, you know? Let’s say they’re injured and they’ve got time on their hands, and they’ve got millions of dollars and they’ve got a cellphone, and Wayne Gretzky gets on and MGM and talks about betting."
Perhaps more important than the content of his words was the combative tone he struck, one we rarely see from NHL owners — many of whom are hands-off ultra-rich hobbyists, faceless corporate entities, or some combination of the two.
There's plenty of that going around in other major sports as well, but in the NFL, NBA, and MLB there are also some notable characters in ownership.
Almost every NFL fan is familiar with Jerry Jones, and he helps make the Dallas Cowboys a team many love to hate. This summer, Colts owner Jim Irsay said that if he died and star running back Jonathan Taylor was out of the league no one would miss them during contract negotiations, then spent $20 million during the offseason unsuccessfully trying to save a whale, then ultimately signed Taylor to a massive deal.
It was a trainwreck, but it made for good theatre.
Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer recently became the fifth-richest person in the world, and his eccentricity makes for storylines in the NBA all year around.
La Clippers owner Steve Ballmer fired up about one of the Intuit Dome’s signature features: “Toilets! 1,160 toilets and urinals! Three times the NBA average! … We do not want people waiting around. We want them back to their d—- seats.” pic.twitter.com/Zphre8ZMRL
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) March 7, 2023
James Dolan may own the New York Rangers, but his notoriety in the sports world tends to come from his villainy surrounding the New York Knicks. Dolan probably isn't good for his own franchise, but he keeps them in the conversation.
The MLB situation is a little different. The lack of a salary cap in the sport means fans have a more direct relationship with ownership groups because of how much they opt to spend on payroll. Even in that world where criticisms about money unspent dominate the discourse, there are some notorious meddlers like Arte Moreno to stir the pot while Steve Cohen plays the role of Ballmer-light with aplomb.
Owners taking center stage is probably not the optimal way to create interest in a sport — players make for better protagonists. But owners have the capacity to add to the intrigue, whether that's beneficial to their clubs or not.
Andlauer just gave the NHL a taste of something it's been missing, something it has more use for than other leagues. The majority of NHL players spout platitudes with more precision and reliability than Shakespearian actors deliver their lines. The league is warning coaches not to shout at referees, and backing that up with ejections. Heated rivalries are elusive these days.
The NHL tends to spotlight its on-ice product and minimize the off-ice noise whenever it can.
As great as the game is, what gets many fans out of bed is a little drama. The NBA is often referred to as a soap opera and — while there are some elements of what's going in that league, the NHL shouldn't be looking to emulate — its dizzying web of off-court storylines undoubtedly drive engagement.
Andlauer isn't going to transform the conversation about the NHL overnight, nor is that his goal.
He has established himself a character worth watching in short order, though. Considering his criticism of the league, that's not something Gary Bettman and Co. are going to openly endorse, but it is good for the NHL.