I have lived in Toronto for close to 6 years now and as a result, have had a pretty good vantage point of the Toronto Maple Leafs. As a corollary to this, I’ve had to deal with the Greek Chorus that makes up the Toronto Sports Media, a group of journalists who can produce some truly awful stuff. So much so, as a matter of fact, that there are blogs devoted to dissecting the worst stuff that crops up in the dailies here in the Big Smoke. For the most part, they’re a harmless bunch who will issue out some amusing diatribes from time to time. Never really had a problem with any of them.
At least until my encounter with Steve Simmons, columnist of the Toronto Sun.
Simmons has been around for a while and has done some really good work in the realm of sports journalism. He was one of the first people to break the David Frost story, and has worked on a book with Lanny McDonald. He’s also a bit of a Leafs cheerleader, advocating that Tavares should have elected to pull a Lindros and that ‘there is nothing about the Islanders that represents hope.’ I’m sure there is a comment about pots and kettles to be made here, but I’ll refrain from doing so. That said, I don’t really read a whole lot of local sports material as the Leafs aren’t my team and the coverage they give to teams outside the GTA is minimal. That’s not a complaint, as I understand why we don’t get, say, several pages of coverage on the Oilers in Toronto. Local market and all that jazz.
At any rate, Simmons Sunday column was pointed out to me, after the folks over at Nucks Misconduct pointed it out on their Twitter feed. The column in question had a Canucks-centric bit that I found interesting. To wit,
“My Vancouver spies insist that Trevor Linden will play a significant role of some kind in the flame lead-up at the 2010 opening ceremony and I sure hope that’s not true. Linden’s presence does not resonate outside Vancouver and if he’s significant in this, it will make the organizing committee look small and all too local. This is a world, international event, not a celebration of the rather inept history of the Canucks.“
Now, I didn’t agree with this and decided to e-mail Simmons last night, expressing my own views on the matter:
“It’s not exactly a well kept secret that Linden is going to be a torch bearer for the Olympics ( http://www.kelowna.com/2009/11/27/former-canucks-captain-carries-olympic-spirit/ ), if that’s what you’re referring to. If not, well, do you recall who lit the cauldron in ’88 in Calgary? Robyn Perry wasn’t, and isn’t, a well known name even within Calgary.
Linden is a former Olympian who played in Nagano, is a class act as evidenced with his demeanor on the ice through his career as a player, his contributions to the community and the fact that he is beloved by the city of Vancouver. What a horrible decision it must be, then, to make him a part of the opening ceremonies, assuming what you reported ends up being true. I’m not sure what prompted the remark about the Canucks: jealousy over Toronto’s inability to land an Olympic bid of their own or frustration over the Canucks being superior to the Leafs for the past 30 odd years or so. Either way it wasn’t needed and makes your criticism come off as being petty.”
In retrospect, that last bit there was a bit of a cheapshot, but as the article itself shows, Simmons isn’t above such juvenile tactics, as there’s the aforementioned quote, as well as an earlier dig at the Canucks. Simmons got his start in Calgary, writing for the Herald and now writes for a Toronto daily. It shouldn’t be surprising that he has a less than positive view on the Canucks, but man oh man, I had yet to plumb the depths of his bitterness.
As an aside, Simmons also seems to have an axe to grind with current Canucks GM Mike Gillis, as he’s made several intimations of Gillis’ relationship with Frost. I’ll touch on that in a second, but first…
A scant 17 minutes later, I received a response from Simmons. Here it is, verbatim:
“This has nothing to do with toronto – although I find it amusing you are chest thumping about the canucks, one of the true non descript franchises in nhl history – never won anything, never had a great player (we’ll reserve judgment on luongo) and fawn over a second liner like linden – I guess stan smyl, don lever and harold snepsts weren’t available“
O…kay. Well, as I said, that last bit of my email to him was a bit of a cheapshot. Simmons clearly took it the wrong way and ignored everything prior. I was still curious as to why Simmons frowned so heavily on Linden’s potential involvement, so I attempted to smooth things over in my response:
“The ‘inept history of the Canucks’ has little to nothing to do when discussing the merits of Linden playing a part in the opening ceremonies. Linden’s contributions to the city of Vancouver extend beyond his role with the Canucks, although I won’t argue that they are the largest part. He continues to do great work for the city (not the team) and is involved in various sports besides hockey, including biathlon and cross country skiing. He also represented Canada at the Olympic level, which doesn’t hurt when you’re considering what he’s done.
Given that Calgary chose to select a young girl who rated below the recognition level of Linden (and still does), I can’t see what’s so wrong or embarrassing about including him. I’m glad you took the time to elucidate your point to me, though.
And it’s wasn’t necessarily chest thumping with regards to the Canucks. I’m well aware of how bad this team has been over the years and yes, the Leafs are a storied franchise with a great history. That said, the Canucks have enjoyed 2 trips to the Finals in the last 30 years or so and have been a mostly strong team post lockout. Were I fan of the Leafs (or covering their beat) I’d probably be a little frustrated that a team with a greater legacy than the Canucks hasn’t been doing that well. I couldn’t understand what place your comment about the Canucks had to do with anything and speculated as to what the reasons could possibly have been.
And no great players? We may not have many, but surely Pavel Bure counts. The Sedins are making a strong case as well. Not sure if you’ve noticed, but Henrik is tied for 2nd overall in scoring right now.
Thanks for taking the time to respond, as well, even if we don’t agree.”
Just for those who aren’t aware, Robyn Perry was a young girl who wasn’t really notable in any sense and to this day remains the most un-noteworthy person involved in the torch-related portions of the Olympic opening ceremonies. Simmons, having been in the journalism business for 30 years and having worked in Calgary, should know exactly who she is. As such, it seems silly to rag on potential plans that involve Linden when you consider the following:
a) He’s a former Olympian himself, having played for Team Canada in Nagano. He also scored against Dominik Hasek in The Shootout That Gretzky Wasn’t Invited To.
b) He’s also a well respected and involved member of the city of Vancouver who, despite no longer being a professional athlete, is still involved in charity work. Given that the Olympics are about the world coming together and sharing in a sense of community, it seems prudent to mention Linden’s own contributions as a community figure.
c) He is a dedicated athlete. There’s hockey, of course, but Linden is also an avid cyclist and his off-season training incorporated a great deal of it and is an activity he continues to take part in. Linden’s also been involved in biathlon events as well as cross country skiing. The Olympics themselves are an athletic competition, Linden’s someone who is very into sports. Makes sense to me.
d) We have absolutely no idea what his involvement would entail. Perhaps the opening cermonies are going to incorporate people from each province. Linden, who was born in Medicine Hat, Alberta, could be the Alberta representative. Perhaps the opening ceremonies will feature notable athletes from all the events going on. As a hockey player, Linden could fit that bill as well. Or, perhaps Linden’s role will be significant, as Simmons states in his column, but there will be individuals who will play an even greater role in the opening ceremony. The simple fact of the matter is that we don’t know and to bitch about the potential involvement reeks of bitterness.
Given that I made a rather polite case in favor of Linden, I figured I could expect something similiar in response from Simmons. Here, again, is what he said to me verbatim:
“Ask the great humanitartian about being president of the nhlpa when david frost (who used to work for mike gillis) was certified as a player agent and when it was brought to his attention he chose to do nothing – proud moment for him and the pa“
At this point, would it be fair to say that there’s something else going on with Simmons besides an honest criticism of Trevor Linden’s (potential) involvement with the opening ceremonies?
I again point to Simmons stint in Calgary as well as working in Toronto and wonder if there’s some sort of residual hostility towards the Canucks as a result of either of these roles. I shouldn’t have to explain the bad blood that exists between the Flames and Canucks, but remember that Brian Burke is GM of the Leafs and the ‘feud’ that existed over the issue of tampering earlier in the season. Burke right now is the anointed one in Toronto and is given a reverence reserved for the likes of Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour and Phil Kessel, so it would make sense to take ‘his side’: wouldn’t want to piss the boss off and you might even score some brownie points. (I wish I was making this up, but during his time in Vancouver, Burke has shown that he’s more than willing to get into feuds with the local media types, as evidenced with his longstanding feud with David Pratt and Gallagher, as well as his revoking the Canucks media rights from the Team 1040. There have also been rumours he attempted to get ‘someone’ in Vancouver radio fired. Brian Burke also doesn’t appear to have a high opinion of Mike Gillis, as Gillis was the man who replaced Dave Nonis, who is Burke’s right hand man and close friend.)
Simmons decided to invoke the hockey equivalent of the boogeyman here, David Frost, in his response as to why Linden’s rumoured involvement is a bad idea. Frost is a reprehensible, evil character, who was charged with sexual molestation. This has been covered by Simmons, as well as others. No one wants to try and defend Frost, as he’s a completely indefensible character, so I find Simmons response to be hilarious in how pathetic and childish it is. Ignoring the fact that Frost was well connected within the NHLPA (a fact that Simmons himself has found occasion to write on), Simmons accusation that Linden chose to ‘do nothing’ makes no sense.
I’d be curious as to where precisely he would have found this information and why he has elected to sit on it: searches attempting to find any sort of link between the two by other media types turn up nothing. So we only have Simmons word that Linden consciously chose to do nothing with regards to Frost. A far better conclusion would be that Linden, IF he was in a position to do anything about Frost, would have been stymied due to Bob Goodenow’s relationship with David Frost. Trying to link Linden to Frost is nothing more than a juvenile smear campaign and should be utterly ridiculous to anyone who has a fully functional brain.
For the record, Frost’s tenure as a certified agent ended soon after Bob Goodenow stepped down as boss of the NHLPA: Goodenow left in July 2005, Frost was de-certified in December 2005. Linden, for what it was worth, was still a part of the NHLPA at that point, so, unless Simmons has solid proof that Linden chose to sit on his hands, you could speculate just as equally that Linden did in fact do something to get him removed once Goodenow was sent packing.
As for Mike Gillis, Simmons seemingly never misses an opportunity to link the two together. There’s the above response he sent to me, but he’s also done so in print. Unfortunately, Simmons is the only source regarding this Frost/Gillis connection and it appears to be one that he has blown way out of proportion, relative to its importance. I would also like to point out that Simmons himself likes to jump the gun on some issues, including not doing his salary cap homework, happily inventing a ‘career ending injury’ for Mats Sundin, making references about an affair Chad Kilger was supposedly having (yet the only source for these accusations emanates solely from Simmons) and argued that John Ferguson Jr. should not be fired before announcing 24 hours later that he should be fired. That Simmons seems to be so cavalier about the accusations he makes should give people pause when considering whatever he has to say.
Did Gillis employ Frost? Well, not exactly. Frost did work for Gillis, who worked for him as a ‘birddog.’ According to someone I asked who has worked as a hockey agent, birddogs ‘direct agents to up and coming players with whom they then develop a relationship.’ To put it another way, birddogs can be seen as recruiters for other agents. As a result, it would seem that Gillis’ relationship with Frost was distant, although the way Simmons constantly refers to him would have you think that the two were tying up and abusing young hockey players together.
Did Gillis deny hiring Frost? Yes, he did and again, this is something Simmons constantly brings up. That said, without knowing the particulars of whatever arrangement the two had, I can’t say that Gillis flat out lied. To put it another way, Frost did perform work for Gillis, but he did not work for Gillis. My best guess is that Gillis’ relationship with Frost is one of a contract worker, rather than being a direct paid employee (although if Simmons has information to the contrary and would like to share, I would love to hear it, as I’m sure many fans of the Canucks would as well.) The distinction is subtle, but it’s there and it would also make sense that Gillis would say something like this in order to distance himself from him. In Frost’s recent trial, he attempted to try and reach out to Gillis, something which Gillis wanted no part of. Thus, it doesn’t make sense to demonize a man for actively not wanting anything to do with him. It’s also the exact opposite of what Simmons is hinting at with Linden, as well as Goodenow, who continues to remain a good friend of Frost’s.
That said, here are some important questions that I would ask of Simmons that, to the best of my knowledge, have not been addressed:
What was the exact nature of Frost and Gillis’ relationship? Important to know, as if it was an extremely casual one, this seems to be blown out of proportion.
When did Gillis and Frost work together? If this was before the public was made aware of just how much of a scumbag Frost is, it’s hard to fault Gillis for not knowing, as I doubt this would be a topic of conversation Frost would be bringing up. The closest I can get to answering this question is a Simmons article published April 2004. Unfortunately, that article is not online anymore so I can’t see the particulars.
How long did this arrangement last? Again, this is important. If it was a one-off gig or an incredibly short term, it would be important to look at why this was so incredibly short.
Again, I’m not a professional journalist and lack the sort of connections that a man such as Simmons has. If he could answer any of these questions it would be great to hear and useful for Canucks fans curious to know more about the GM.
I’ve also tried to find other journalists commenting on a potential Frost/Gillis connection and everything online are either comments made by Simmons or someone else quoting what Simmons has said. Given that the hockey market in Vancouver has more than their fair share of journalists who have their own opinions, you would think that someone would have seized upon this and made it into a huge story. Keep in mind that this is the same city that gave coverage to a completely made up story about Dan Cloutier potentially running someone over in his sports car. Vancouver will chase just about any potentially interesting story, but they’re absolutely mum here.
In fact, the only other person I see making reference to Gillis/Frost is a ‘shabazz’, an entity that inhabits the comments sections of the Province and Vancouver Sun. ‘shabazz’ quoted word-for-word something Simmons wrote a day earlier as a throwaway comment in one of his columns. ‘shabazz’ also shares a similar sentiment towards the Canucks that Simmons did in his emails to me. It should be noted that both papers are owned by CanWest, the same company that owns the same paper Simmons writes for. I’m not saying that ‘shabazz’ and Simmons are one and the same, as shabazz probably just stumbled across Simmons’ quote and used it for his own purposes. As evidenced in my own correspondence with him, Steve Simmons is a professional who certainly wouldn’t stoop to such childish language or antics, so I’m positive that this can be nothing more than a happy coincidence.