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posted: 9/3/2012 7:42 PM

Is Bettman ruling or ruining the NHL?

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  • Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews accepts the Stanley Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman back in 2010.

      Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews accepts the Stanley Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman back in 2010.
    Associated Press

 
 

In less than two weeks, Gary Bettman will again lock out the NHL's stars if a new CBA is not in place, only seven years after the same commissioner wiped out an entire season of hockey to extract from the players everything the owners wanted.

Bettman is, after all, the $8 million-a-year commissioner of the owners, and while he lords over the entire game -- deciding player welfare, health, punishment and ability to earn -- he cares only about those who own teams in the game.

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On Labor Day, it was mildly surprising he didn't ask for a title change from "Commissioner" to "King."

When last he took hockey away from the fans, Mad King Gary said it was to achieve "cost certainty." He destroyed incompetent union leadership and got all he needed, though at a severe cost to the game.

The players had their heads handed to them and gave away a year's salary in the process, accomplishing nothing and emboldening the king.

What has happened in the interim?

Revenues have grown to a record $3.3 billion, and owners have handed out some of the most ridiculous contracts in sports history.

Mad King Gary didn't seem at all concerned with the CBA this summer when the owners were climbing all over one another, sprinting to the bank and desperate to hand out $100 million contracts to Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and Shea Weber.

And all of this should sound familiar to new NHLPA boss Don Fehr.

He already knows this isn't a fight between the players and owners. This is a fight between owners, big market and small.

This is George Steinbrenner's Yankees against Drayton McLane's Astros, with Mad King Gary playing the role of Bud Selig.

The owners publicly fight with the players, when in secret the owners fight with each other. They can't police themselves -- can't stop themselves from spending -- so they must ask the players to step in the middle and tell the owners to stop giving the players so much money.

Wait, what?

The owners can't keep their wallets in their pockets, so they beg the players to ask for less?

An odd situation, but hardly new in pro sports, where there is always a Jerry Jones on one side and a McCaskey on the other.

One would thrive without a cap system, capable of building, marketing and selling, able to make huge piles of money in a single bound, happy to spend in order to win more and make more. The other wants everyone to be exactly the same.

It's the 8-year-old's soccer team where everyone gets a trophy for showing up.

Rocky Wirtz did not become what he is without spending money and taking risks in business -- where there's no cap on spending or limit on losing -- and had it been within the rules he would have spent liberally to keep his Stanley Cup-winning team together.

But the Nashville and Columbus types don't want that. They want teams like the Blackhawks to spend fewer dollars on players and put less of an effort toward winning.

It is for them that Mad King Gary wants to shut the game down again and give every kid a soccer trophy.

Selig and Fehr also once wiped out the World Series, and learned from that. It took the Great Steroid Race of 1998 to spark interest in baseball again, and the game is still paying for those mistakes as well.

Though Mad King Gary got everything he wanted in the last CBA, he now wants changes to the very system he put in place. Apparently, with this system not everyone can get a soccer trophy.

So he's willing to stick it to the fans again for the expressed purpose of helping a few poor owners who are bad businessmen. They have bought teams in cities where they can't produce enough revenue, or they simply don't know how to win or spend money.

Mad King Gary has told you that 57 percent of the revenue -- the number in MKG's perfect deal seven years ago -- is now too much for the players, that 46 percent is what they should receive.

The NHLPA responded with an offer to limit salary growth the next three years.

MKG came back and said, "Somehow there's an entitlement (for the players) to be at 57 percent. There is no such entitlement."

To which Fehr replied, the salary cap is also not an owner entitlement, and once the CBA expires the owners should understand that the cap becomes a bargaining issue, too.

So that's where we are, a stalemate between a league that has never been more flush and players who have never made more money.

The difference is the players aren't complaining. They understand only one team gets the crown at the end of the season.

Mad King Gary wants every team to get a trophy.

As for the next bargaining session, you have to wonder who signed up to bring the juice and snacks.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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