Bettman holds the cards
By Ross Brewitt
The week began with the fall speaking tour for my new novel, Just Another Hat Trick, about the Maple Leafs and Sabres in the Eastern Conference final. The first stop was St. Thomas, followed by Niagara Falls, and in both cases when we reached the usual Q&A, the first question came through as expected.
“What’s going to happen to the NHL this year?”
Like I knew.
As I did then, my position was stated as, "Columnists are expected to have opinions, not predictions. As long as we understand that, here’s my opinion.”
The whole process has seemed pre-determined. These performances in huffing and puffing and blowing a house down by tossing accusations, figures and percentages hither and yon like hand grenades is a sham. It’s blathering with the smug posture proving the blatherer unerringly correct. Like we had a vote.
The galling part of this charade is that both Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr speak down to anyone still listening. It consists of scripted lines that are delivered with all the courtesy of “we know what’s going on, you dummies don’t.”
It’s a look and attitude that stinks.
So here’s my considered outlook and opinion of events leading up to Saturday’s inevitable lockout. Let’s go to the NHL first.
Bettman and his gang of 30 who can’t shoot straight had their way in previous shutdowns yet lost both, big time.
Despite Mr. Bettman’s denials, negotiation isn’t a word he subscribes to, it’s his way or out comes the lockout card. Why buck a system that works?
Bettman’s version of the NHL will win this one too, the only question being when? I’ll give him his due, Gary is explaining things better than the PA.
Like many others I’m convinced the lockout will be over by late November, early December, absolutely before the Winter Classic, because then we’re talking big money, and losing face.
Yet the very threat of a lockout rests with the NHL, and continues to widen the gap between the league and fans.
Bettman is a shrewd guy who has proven he can make the owners money, in fact is very good at it. Be that as it may, you can hire lawyers, bean counters, PR pushers and website designers by the dozen. As for improving the game, the one with players on the ice, that department with Oprah Winfrey behind the wheel could match the present regime.
Now let’s look at the NHLPA.
They reluctantly came out of the gate late, with a leader who was almost invisible for the first year apparently hunkered down “learning the game” and avoiding contact like Tomas Kaberle.
Although they emerged with a seemingly open-minded, conciliatory approach as opposed to the fire and brimstone preaching of Bob Goodenow in 2004-05, the talk was much like a mouthful of All-Bran and Grape Nuts Flakes. Lots of fibre, but simply holding the line.
They even had the big and little stars of the rank-and-file lined up wallet-to-wallet in a show of together.
But when the door closes on Saturday the jockeying for positions in the KHL will begin in earnest. Hell, even the Russians have learned a lesson, proposing seriously discounted salaries to those willing to risk an indeterminate number of games overseas.
Meanwhile, the union will be faced with the same solidarity dilemma. Well paid young men, anxious to play, and very aware of losing a prime playing year, while defending nothing more than a stance.
Already sympathy for either side is non-existent, the fans don’t count, and in the end, little will change.
Therefore, with no foreseeable move afoot to launch a remedial SOFT program (Save Owners From Themselves) it all comes down to the old noisy clog-dancing act.
So, in my quaint evaluation system, unless the union decides to play nice and capitulate now, Gary will give them two months off and prepare for November when they do.
Add those figures up, and see how it works out, bud.
(Ross Brewitt is an author/columnist who appears on Fridays. Reach Ross by going to the contact page on his website at www.rossbrewitt.ca)