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posted: 12/12/2012 5:30 AM

NHL owners pushing fans to brink of apathy

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  • NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, right, and deputy commissioner Bill Daly speak to reporters last Thursday in New York. The NHL has rejected the players' latest offer but negotiations are expected to resume Wednesday. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

      NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, right, and deputy commissioner Bill Daly speak to reporters last Thursday in New York. The NHL has rejected the players' latest offer but negotiations are expected to resume Wednesday. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
    Associated Press

  • Winnipeg Jets' Ron Hainsey, left, Anaheim Ducks' Daniel Winnik, center, and free agent Chris Campoli listen to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly last week in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

      Winnipeg Jets' Ron Hainsey, left, Anaheim Ducks' Daniel Winnik, center, and free agent Chris Campoli listen to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly last week in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
    Associated Press

 
 

Just last week, NHL comedian Gary Bettman was complaining about how the number of long-term contracts has risen dramatically the last few years.

Bettman reminded us that in 2004 there was only one NHL contract longer than six years, but now there are nearly 90.

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So since the advent of Bettman's sublime CBA that cost the NHL a season in 2004-05, he's what exactly, upset that some owners and GMs signed players to long-term deals within the rules?

"The trend has gone completely in the wrong way," Bettman said, "and that has a whole host of consequences to the game and to the operation of our clubs."

If you're not rolling on the floor, laughing your hat off, maybe you just don't appreciate Bettman for what he is.

The two sides made some progress last week, and the last big hurdle to ending this lockout is player contract length, with the NHL's Bill Daly insisting term limits are "the hill we would die on."

The term limits he should really be worried about are his and Bettman's, because if NHL fans don't come back in full, Bettman may be out on his $8-million-a-year back.

In the meantime, Bettman and his flock of hawks are again forcing the players to fix a system the owners created.

In baseball, the Dodgers spend whatever they want and MLB taxes them and shares the revenue. That's one approach. In hockey, the owners lock out the players. That's a slightly different approach.

Just so we're straight, the owners need the players to prevent other owners from signing players for too many years or too much money. More specifically, small-market owners want the players to prevent the big-market owners -- and their creative GMs -- from finding ways around the cap.

But smart GMs will always find ways. They will invent new ones if they can't use the old ones. You can be certain Detroit GM Ken Holland has already figured out where this will end and has a plan in place to eventually circumvent the cap.

Yup, another work stoppage because owners can't agree among themselves.

As you undoubtedly recall, Marian Hossa signed for 12 years and $63 million. Brian Campbell got eight years and $57 million. Rick DiPietro 15 years and $67 million. Ilya Kovalchuk 15 years and $100 million. The list goes on and on.

The Penguins just signed Sidney Crosby in June for 12 years and $104 million. Sure, he's the best player in the game when healthy, but would you take that kind of risk with a guy who's one ding away from being daffy forever?

See, that's the point. Pittsburgh thinks it's worth the risk. Your dime, your danger.

On the other hand, Minnesota signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter for 13 years and $98 million each -- selling thousands of tickets in the process -- but Wild owner Craig Leipold is one of Bettman's biggest supporters in the fight to lower salaries and length of contracts.

Uber-hawk Jeremy Jacobs signed $70 million worth of contracts in the days leading up to the lockout.

Together, owners spent $300 million on extensions in the final week before the CBA expired, owners like Jacobs and Leipold knowing they had no intention of honoring those agreements.

But Bettman stands in front of the cameras and with a straight face talks about "trust."

Despite it all, the two sides were closing in last week when the owners told the players they couldn't have their representation come in and finish the deal.

Yes, a bunch of experienced businessmen who have dealt with these issues their whole lives, told a group of athletes -- many uneducated -- to sign on the spot, and if they brought in their attorney, Don Fehr, it was a deal-breaker.

Who negotiates like this, Crazy Joe Davola?

It's been a circus from the start, with Bettman in the center ring surrounded by scary clowns, dancing bears and bike-riding monkeys.

However, even with last week's posturing and dire predictions, I believe they will settle this and play a season, maybe 45 or 50 games.

The owners who never wanted it -- but allowed Bettman to shutter the game again -- will have to ask themselves if it was worth it.

They assume the fans will return, because hockey fans can't live without their NHL, and they have always come back before.

But this time, what if they don't?

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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