Editor’s note: This story was updated for the correct spelling of Shea Weber’s name.
Gary Bettman does not discriminate.
He talks equally out of both sides of his mouth — and he frequently gets help from the owners who pay him.
Bruins boss Jeremy Jacobs, for example, rushed to beat the deadline and signed another player to a big contract just hours before the NHL announced a lockout Saturday.
In the past week, the Bruins have spent more than $70 million in contract extensions, and Jacobs — naturally — is one of the hawks leading the fight for a more cost-effective system.
In other words, NHL players, please help Jacobs help himself.
After Bettman’s first proposal to the players this summer demanded no contracts longer than five years, two Oilers got seven- and six-year deals, and in July, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter got 13-year contracts ($98 million) and Shea Weber got 14 years ($110 million).
It’s the same old story in professional sports. Owners can’t stop themselves from spending, so they ask the players to do it for them.
Bettman started this fight while the players seemed perfectly happy, something Bettman claimed to be in 2005 after he successfully killed a year of hockey and gave us the first season without a Stanley Cup champ since a flu epidemic in 1919.
He crushed the union. He got everything he wanted. He said it was worth losing an entire season. He said he needed “cost certainty.” He said he felt bad for the fans. He said he had empathy for the players. He said this would save the sport.
“I know the league’s future is bright, and this will be to the benefit of the game,” Bettman said in July 2005. “We had no choice but to get it right.”
If they got it right, why is there another lockout?
“From our standpoint,” Bettman said seven years ago, “we believe that the agreement will give 30 stable, healthy, competitive teams and the fans in all of our markets every opportunity to think they have a shot at winning the Cup.”
The fans in some cities might have a shot if their GMs were smarter and their owners were better businessmen operating in genuine hockey markets.
“Our foundation for the future now is in place,” Bettman guaranteed us in 2005. “It is the mandate of this new partnership, achieved at enormous cost, to reconnect with our fans and refocus the spotlight where it belongs: on the ice, on the beauty and the skill of our remarkable game and on the world’s best professional athletes.”
Bettman collected $8 million last season, more than 976 players and more than all but seven of “the world’s best professional athletes.”
And out of this “new partnership” came Bettman’s handcrafted agreement, his personal document that ended the lockout and set the league on the right path.
“Today, our Board of Governors gave its unanimous approval to a Collective Bargaining Agreement that signals a new era for our League,” Bettman said in July 2005, “an era of economic stability for our franchises, an era of heightened competitive balance for our players, an era of unparalleled excitement and entertainment for our fans.”
Unanimous approval of a CBA with economic stability and heightened competitive balance. It was all fixed. The lost year necessary. That made the fans’ pain worthwhile.
But now Bettman is saying that same CBA is killing the sport, even with revenue at an all-time high, with a new $2 billion TV contract, with regional deals increasing, attendance up and ratings higher.
“We will return this game to our fans with a promise: We will do everything in our power to be the best we can be and to earn your continued devotion,” Bettman assured you seven years ago. “This was a terrible time for everyone associated with the game. We will do everything we can to make it up to you.”
So much for promises.
“The greatness of our game is best reflected by the character and commitment of our fans,” Bettman said after the previous lockout ended. “We appreciate the patience and the support they have shown through this difficult time.”
That wasn’t in the middle of an economic disaster with high unemployment and wage cuts. Ask ticket holders now and they might tell Bettman they could learn to live with some extra cash in their pockets, and having figured out they need that money, perhaps they’ll learn to stay home and watch on TV.
How’s that going to help the owners?
Of course, when it’s over Bettman will promise the fans, players and owners it was all worth it.
Anyone going to believe him this time?
ŸListen 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.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.