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How a Facebook chat turned costly

How a Facebook chat turned costly

By Christopher Botta, Staff Writer

Published

The interview given by Jim Devellano, Detroit Red Wings senior vice president, that resulted in a reported $250,000 fine could serve as a cautionary tale for executives using social media: Devellano’s interview was initiated by a connection on Facebook.

The NHL fined the Red Wings on Sept. 22, less than 24 hours after the interview’s resulting article ran on the website Island Sports News. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, in a statement, said Devellano’s comments were “neither appropriate, nor authorized, nor permissible under the league’s bylaws.”

NHL bylaw 17.17 prohibits owners or team officials from discussing collective bargaining. Only Daly and Commissioner Gary Bettman are permitted to speak on the subject.

In the interview with Scott Harrigan — the owner of the 3-year-old website based in Victoria, British Columbia — Devellano said, “The owners can basically be viewed as the ranch, and the players, and me included, are the cattle.” He also said, “The owners simply aren’t going to let a union push them around. It’s not going to happen.”

Devellano’s comments resulted in a $250,000 team fine from the NHL.
The communication between Harrigan and Devellano started innocently on Facebook. Although the two do not know each other, they are Facebook friends. Among Devellano’s more than 700 Facebook friends are league executives (including Daly), reporters, several of his former players and hockey fans. When Harrigan posted on his own Facebook page a comment criticizing Bettman, Devellano replied to Harrigan, in public view, that Bettman works for the owners.

“The whole thing started because Jim was standing up for Bettman’s honor,” Harrigan said. “To be honest, I forgot Jim and I were even Facebook friends until he responded to me. I invited him to do an interview, he sent his phone number, and I called him.”

Although Harrigan’s site focuses primarily on amateur sports and junior hockey in Western Canada, he could not resist the opportunity to interview Devellano, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010 for his role in building Stanley Cup teams with the Red Wings and New York Islanders. The article has become Island Sports News’ biggest hit by far. Harrigan estimated that his site gets about 100,000 page views each month. The Devellano article had already notched more than 100,000 page views 10 days after it was published.

Harrigan said he feels bad that the interview led to a substantial fine for the Red Wings, but he was not losing sleep.

“I don’t have any regrets,” Harrigan said. “I’ve played back the interview many times, and I feel like Jim knew exactly what he was doing. … I don’t think Jim thought he would get his team fined.”

The entire episode likely would not have happened if Devellano had been contacted about the interview through the traditional route of the team’s public relations department. A formal interview request made to John Hahn, the Red Wings’ senior director of communications, would have been vetted, and with the NHL bylaw prohibiting CBA comments in place, the request would have been declined. (To wit, Hahn and Devellano declined to comment for this story).

But on Facebook, with his guard down and his intention to defend Bettman and the league pure, Devellano engaged with Harrigan one week after the start of the lockout.

Harrigan has reached out to Devellano since the article was published but has not heard back. On Sept. 21, the day the story appeared, Harrigan posted a note on Devellano’s Facebook page along with a link to the story. The note read, “Thanks again Jimmy, had a blast talking with you!!”

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