Gentille: For the NHL, flexibility has always been more important than transparency

At some point during Michael Andlauer’s press conference on Wednesday afternoon, the pivot took place.

We’ve all seen our share of post-firing media sessions in the NHL, and they tend to follow a similar script. Our performance wasn’t where it needed to be. It was time for a change. We wanted a new voice. Fill in the blanks. Change the name of the departed — in this case, it was Pierre Dorion. Tweak the verbiage to fit the contract-related specifics — in this case, Dorion and the Ottawa Senators “mutually parted ways.” Talk about the succession plan. Keep it vague. Omit some facts. Get creative with others. Be truth-adjacent, but not actually honest. Definitely do not put the league on blast, even if it’s deserved.

And that’s why, even a day later, Andlauer’s performance has shown some staying power. That’s why, for now, it has stuck in a way that so few entries in the genre typically do. The NHL’s newest owner with the (current) crummiest luck spoke plainly and directly, showing the kind of transparency that the league, by design and to its own detriment, avoids like rush-hour traffic. That approach might work for doling out ref-criticism fines and three-game boarding suspensions. Not here.

The particulars here were covered and contextualized, as they relate to the Senators specifically, by Ian Mendes. In 2021, Dorion failed to inform the Vegas Golden Nights of Evgenii Dadonov’s limited no-trade clause — a clause that was part of a contract that Dorion negotiated. That omission came to roost a year later, when Vegas tried to send Dadonov to the Ducks at the 2022 trade deadline. Guess which team was on the mystery list.


‘Why I inherited this is beyond me’: Fiery Michael Andlauer sounds off on the NHL and Pierre Dorion

Somehow, 18 months later, the matter wasn’t closed. Somehow, Andlauer is now out a first-round pick — without, he said, getting any meaningful hint, heads up, or warning about an impending, and harsh, penalty while he was negotiating his $950 million purchase of the team over the last year.

“Why I inherited this is beyond me. There is no reason for this to last this long,” Andlauer said. “I knew about it. … And it was basically, from the seller’s perspective, it was really a non-issue. I don’t know if a first-rounder is a non-issue to you guys, but it is to me.

“That’s a question you’ll have to ask the NHL, why it took a whole year since the hearing. The commissioner had a lot of time to deliberate.”

A little later, he delivered the roundhouse: “Maybe because the club was for sale and they didn’t want to dispute the sale, and making sure the seller got the biggest price possible. … I don’t know.”

Direct hit, that.

Throughout, Andlauer sounded confused and angry in equal parts, not just about the Dadonov mess, but about Shane Pinto’s 41-game suspension for violating gambling protocols; the Senators, Andlauer said, were not informed of that investigation. This is, again, a man who recently paid nearly a billion dollars for the privilege. Fans have been stung in that way — force-fed messages almost contemptuous in their vagary, totally disinterested in acknowledging that they’re the ones who foot the bill, the ones who matter most — for a generation or three. On stuff like the Dadonov release, though, or the Pinto non-explanation before it, you could attempt to justify it. That’s just the league’s public position, you could say. Of course they’re not going to explain it publicly. They’re taking a stronger, more logical stance, even if it’s happening just out of frame.



What’s next for Shane Pinto, Pierre Dorion and Senators after gambling suspension?

The response to Pinto’s suspension, though, doesn’t suggest that to be the case. After the news broke, executives who spoke with The Athletic’s Chris Johnston expressed a measure of frustration with the secrecy surrounding it. Nothing seems to have changed over the last few days, either. Two executives told The Athletic that they hadn’t received any more information or guidance on Pinto, why he was suspended, or how to stop something similar from happening to another player. The belief, one said, is that discussions like that were taking place at the NHLPA level. Better than nothing? Absolutely. Enough? Not really.

“It would be nice to get some kind of clarity,” Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski told The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline. “It would be nice to know what happened (with Pinto). I don’t want to know his business because it’s his business. But some more guidelines would be helpful.”

On Wednesday, Andlauer stuck another pin in the whole thing. If the owners are kept in the dark, who isn’t? If they’re not aware of the machinations, who is? The most logical conclusion, then and now, is that the muddiness is a feature, not a bug. If you don’t have hard and fast rules — if you refuse to explain your logic, your process or your rationale — you can recast as necessary. Flexibility is king. Fairness is secondary. Transparency is … what’s below “tertiary?”

The problem there, of course, is that not everyone forgets. The public doesn’t need to accept bizarre non-answers. Franchise owners, as Andlauer showed us, certainly don’t, either. And when the cards on the table are billion-dollar buy-ins and competitive integrity, viable explanations shouldn’t be in short supply.

(Photo of Cyril Leeder, Michael Andlauer and Gary Bettman: Fred Chartrand / The Canadian Press via AP)

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