Does Bettman really care about NHL?
Bud Selig is not the brightest commissioner of all time.
On that point, many would agree.
But even Selig learned from the disaster of 1994 and has not allowed a few small-market owners to shut down the game again in an attempt to break the players union.
Gary Bettman has not learned the same lesson. He has already wiped out an entire season of hockey once and this is his third major work stoppage in 19 years on the job.
As is always the case, Bettman is doing it for the benefit of few owners who are either bad at running a business or are in a market where they can't make hockey work. Yes, there are a couple big-market hawks, but this is more about bad-market failures.
I asked an NHL executive last week how many owners we're talking about here, and he said he thought the number was between six and eight. Let's call it eight, for the sake of argument.
There are eight men shutting down a $3.3 billion business that has never been in better shape, never been more popular and never meant so much to so many.
This is why Gary Bettman has closed the doors again.
Eight very rich men who had enough money — sometimes hundreds of millions — to purchase a franchise knowing the finances ahead of time. Eight very rich men who had the cash to hand out expensive, long-term contracts, but now don't like the rules agreed to when they purchased their teams and paid their players.
Eight men in hockey hotbeds like Dallas, Anaheim, Sunrise and Glendale, the last of which is actually owned by Bettman himself. These people don't like the rules and are willing to lose a season to get their way.
They want more revenue from the players, but that would only temporarily solve the problem and we'll be right back here again in the same quandary a few years from now.
The real solution is revenue sharing among the owners, which is how the New York Yankees finally pacified the Kansas City Royals.
It's ridiculous that Rocky Wirtz should write a check to help one of his competitors run a business, and he certainly wouldn't think of it in any of his other businesses, but it's one possible solution.
Rather than write a check just for being better at what he does, why not take out the salary cap floor and let a rich team buy another team's extra cap space? It's really just another form of sharing revenue.
Dale Tallon is rebuilding in Florida and has done a nice job getting rid of some terrible contracts, but at times he's also had to spend money or take on contracts just to get to the floor.
Why not remove the floor and let him sell $20 million in cap space to the Blackhawks, Rangers, Leafs and Canucks? In fact, let him sell it with a 50 percent penalty, getting back $30 million in cash and maybe even a couple good young players and draft picks.
Let him make the best deals he can selling that space, helping a poor team rebuild more quickly than it otherwise would.
Think the Hawks would have wanted to keep a Stanley Cup-winning team together? Think they would have been aggressive bidding for that cap space instead of having to lose half a roster and filling it with spare parts?
That would have been a good deal for Chicago and Florida.
But instead of even negotiating such possibilities or discussing anything with the players union, Bettman has spent the last several months insisting the players give back more and it was his way or no way, and only Saturday after weeks of no talks at all did the NHL agree to meet the players.
When the players last gave up a season and ultimately buckled to every Bettman demand, the commissioner said it was the perfect deal and the game would be healthy. He said it was worth the pain suffered by the fans, the players and all those who count on NHL hockey to make their living.
Now, he says the deal is no good, even though the game has never been more financially healthy.
For weeks he had said he would not even speak to the players until they indicated they were ready for major givebacks. He would not negotiate. He would not even sit down in a room with them.
It seems that proving a point and getting the players to pay for the owners' mistakes is all that matters to Bettman.
Bud Selig, for all his faults, truly loves baseball and was not willing to ever again put the game through such misery.
Many times, I have heard the argument that Bettman is nothing but a basketball guy who dreams of being David Stern and doesn't care at all about hockey.
Many times I have thought that it can't really be the case.
But it is time to wonder if it might really be true.
•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.
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