NHL turns its attention to social media

There's no denying the learning curve now that the NHL's general managers are talking about social media.

There's no denying the learning curve now that the NHL's general managers are talking about social media.

Darcy Regier of the Buffalo Sabres wasn't even sure if any of his players had a Twitter account when he attended this week's GMs meeting. So while Phoenix Coyotes counterpart Don Maloney led a discussion on the topic, he was busy punching away at his laptop.

"As he was saying that, I was Googling some names," said Regier. "Naturally, you start from the youngest up, right?"

And he was far from alone in the room.

"I don't even understand it, so I wouldn't know how to draft rules," said Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke. "I'm clearly lost when we discuss that. So no, we don't have any rules."

The NHL is clearly lagging behind on the issue. The NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball all established formal policies more than a year ago.

While some within the ranks of the NHL have long been pushing the league to follow suit, it only now appears ready to have serious dialogue on the issue.

The most interesting question moving forward will be whether the GMs decide to embrace the opportunity presented by platforms like Twitter or if they'll attempt to limit players' use because they perceive it as some kind of threat.

The Coyotes are among the more active teams on Twitter, led by colourful enforcer Paul Bissonnette ((at)BizNasty2point0). He and Maloney have had a couple discussions about things Bissonnette has Tweeted — "every once in a while you just have to say, 'No, no, no, no, stay on the good side of the ledger,"' said Maloney — but the Phoenix organization remains supportive of its players participating.

They understand its importance when it comes to reaching younger fans.

"It's how people communicate now so we don't want to sound like dinosaurs," said Maloney.

Nashville Predators GM David Poile sees both sides of the issue.

Weighing the benefits

His organization struggles to get coverage and he thinks there's a benefit to using a Twitter account to reach fans directly. However, he also saw what happened to former Predators goalie Dan Ellis, who caused an uproar in the summer when he Tweeted about his financial stress.

Within hours, he closed his account amid a heavy backlash from people labelling him a spoiled athlete.

"I know Dan Ellis and I know what he was trying to say about the money," said Poile. "But he got rather crucified for his position. He was Tweeting to have some fun I think and it kind of backfired on him.

"I think eventually that's going to happen with anybody that puts out opinion."

Interestingly, Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis ((at)GMMikeGillis) opened an account on Tuesday and said in his first Tweet that he plans to be active.

It's not clear how soon a policy will be formulated or what it might include. The NHL Players' Association is bound to have serious interest since it could include restrictions and/or sanctions that affect players, making it possible that a formal policy isn't tackled until the next round of collective bargaining in 2012.

A primary tenet of the policies in other sports leagues is not allowing athletes to Tweet during games. There hasn't been much evidence of that happening in the NHL, but Maple Leafs prospect Jerry D'Amigo ((at)JerryD91) did send a message after getting kicked out of an American Hockey League game last week.

The answer, in the short term, might be leaving it to each individual team to govern its own players. The Coyotes have already drawn up some guidelines that they'll look to introduce in the near future.

"We put something together and we were waiting for this setting to talk about it and to get everyone's input," said Maloney.