Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Has Gary Bettman Won?

Say what you want about Gary Bettman, but last night the man appeared passionate about hockey, (link to video).  True, he could just be a ticked off businessman, angry about the status of negotiations, but either way last night it seemed as though Bettman genuinely wants a season to start.

Even so I am already awaiting fans to scream and call Bettman a liar; asking what it’s going to take for the man to be fired.  Am I the only person who seems to think that Bettman may genuinely care about hockey here?  Let’s consider some facts.

  • Yes, the NHL has experienced 3 lockouts under Gary Bettman, (a horrible statistic), but under Gary Bettman the league has also seen its greatest growth, ever. (And that is including significant rises in player salaries).
  • Gary Bettman has been the NHL commissioner since 1993, (nearly 20 years).  Don Fehr has been the NHLPA executive director since 2010, (2 years).  You tell me which one of them you would think is more invested in hockey.
  • Gary Bettman was the person who proposed meetings where he and Don Fehr step out of the room and it lead to negotiations that made us all feel hopeful for the first time in months.
  • Gary Bettman, (and the NHL), wanted to start negotiations with the NHLPA last season, but the NHLPA wouldn’t until late this summer.  Additionally the NHLPA shot down realignment last year, presumably to use it as a chip on the bargaining table.  Long story short, the NHLPA seemed to see this lockout coming from a distance and didn’t try to end it, but instead encouraged it.

The NHLPA wasted little time in putting up a video the day after the CBA expired, blaming the owners.  Yet the NHLPA was the group who failed to come to the table, and who had already shot down league proposals a year before negotiations ever began.  And yet, this is all somehow Gary Bettman’s fault?  (And seriously, realignment is badly needed and it should have been implemented last season).

In last night’s press conference Gary Bettman brought up an interesting point: Don Fehr has said that negotiations were close, yet has requested the presence of federal mediators;  If negotiations were close, why would they need mediators?  You raise an interesting point there Gary.

Give Bettman credit, neither he nor Bill Daly has ever told the media that negotiations were close.  They didn’t want to give false hope.  So why would Don Fehr do just the opposite?

It seems to be a tactic of sorts.  If Fehr states that negotiations are close and that things got shut down because of the owners, it places blame on the owners.  But things were never close, as evidenced by the fact that the NHLPA requested federal mediators.  So Fehr appears to be playing games with the media, and worse, with fans.  And it appears as though Gary Bettman has exposed him.  This could destroy all trust in Fehr and possibly destroy the unity of the players association.

Could this be a tactic on Bettman’s part?  It could be, but it would be incredibly difficult to pull off a scheme of this magnitude.  If this were a tactic on Bettman’s part it would require getting numerous owners in on it, getting them to dupe players, building up hopes, and then destroying them, all in a matter of days.  It would require owners who not only bought into such a scheme, but perfectly executed it.  No offense but that sounds like something that could only be pulled off by Danny Ocean and 10 of his closest friends.

Making matters more interesting is Don Fehr’s address to the media shortly after having heard the voicemail from Bill Daly, in which he informed the NHLPA that there was nothing to discuss.  The looks of the disheartened players behind Fehr are very telling.  It’s clear these guys want to play; it’s clear they want this process to be over.

What is also clear is that the two sides can’t agree.  And at least according to the 4 owners who recently joined negotiations, it seems the Fehr’s are to blame.

As stated by Ron Burkle, co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins:

“We needed a response on key items that were important to us, but we were optimistic that we were down to very few issues. I believe a deal was within reach.

We were therefore surprised when the Fehrs made a unilateral and “non-negotiable” decision – which is their right, to end the player/owner process that has moved us farther in two days than we moved at any time in the past months.”

 Larry Tanenbaum, (Toronto Maple Leafs chairman), continues:

“I was optimistic and conveyed my optimism to the Board of Governors at our Wednesday meeting. However, when we reconvened with the players on Wednesday afternoon, it was like someone had thrown a switch.

The atmosphere had completely changed. Nevertheless, the owners tried to push forward and made a number of concessions and proposals, which were not well-received. I question whether the union is interested in making an agreement.

I am very disappointed and disillusioned. Had I not experienced this process myself, I might not have believed it. Like all hockey fans, I am hopeful this situation can be resolved as soon as possible. I miss our game.”

Jeff Vinik, (Owner of Tampa Bay Lightning):

 “While trust was built and progress was made along the way, unfortunately, our proposal was rejected by the Union’s leadership.”

 And Mark Chipman, (Chairman, Winnipeg Jets):

 “While I sense there are some members of the players association that understand our perspective on these issues, clearly there are many that don’t.”

If Gary Bettman’s goal was to undermine Don Fehr, it may, (with some newly added voices), have very well worked.  My hope, (and perhaps it’s naïve), is that Bettman’s goal was to simply get hockey back on the ice, and let’s hope he can find a way to make that work as quickly as possible.  To quote Mr. Tannebaum, “I miss our game”.

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Tags: 2012 Bettman Gary Gary Bettman Lockout Negotiations NHL NHLPA Win Won

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