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updated: 1/6/2013 3:22 PM

NHL fans deserve end of Bettman era immediately

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  • In this image from video, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman talks to the media as Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players' Association, stands next to him. A deal to end the 113-day NHL lockout was reached early Sunday morning following a 16-hour negotiating session.

      In this image from video, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman talks to the media as Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players' Association, stands next to him. A deal to end the 113-day NHL lockout was reached early Sunday morning following a 16-hour negotiating session.
    AP Photo/The Canadian Press


If you are an NHL fan, then you are angry.

This is fact.

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There is no fan of the league that isn't furious about another half season of hockey lost -- and for no good reason.

Gary Bettman and his small band of hawks shut down the game again and got exactly in concessions now what they would have received had they bothered to negotiate over the summer.

The problem is Bettman promised those few men that he could bust the union and gain much bigger givebacks from the players. He was stunned, then, to find that Don Fehr was not corrupt or incompetent, as had been the case with previous union leadership, and that the players stayed together.

So Bettman threw his deal down on the table, so to speak, and left it there, refusing to negotiate for months, believing that his take-it-or-leave-it strategy would work.

Obviously, it did not.

Fehr tried to communicate with Bettman, letting him know the union would be willing to give back yet again, and that the players were not in a position of strength. Fehr knew it would be a beating, but he would not accept a bloodbath.

Having been in many genuine negotiations, the union leadership was baffled by the NHL strategy, which was simply to cancel games and refuse to answer the phone.

Take it or leave it was the only NHL communication.

It stayed that way until a few weeks ago when the NHL finally realized that the players would not cave.

Much of the last month has been more silliness, owners walking out of the room when the players said they needed Fehr in the room, and NHL hatchet man Bill Daly saying player contract length was the "hill the NHL would die on.''

The NHL lived, and completely backed off on contract length, going from its hill-dying cap of five years to seven years, eight for a player re-signing with his team.

Just one example of how absurd the conversation, and how unnecessary the lockout.

A key to negotiating is understanding who's across the table. Bettman should have known this in July instead of figuring it out in January, and in the process saved everyone a lot of aggravation.

But as is always the case, what needed solving was the fight between owners, those who can afford to spend and those who can't.

If you're not interested in the issues of this battle -- and who could blame you -- then suffice it to say that small-market owners were angry that big-market owners were circumventing the cap, and the owners were insisting the players solve the owners' problem for them.

That's why you've had no hockey since June.

For his $8 million salary, Bettman promised a few owners that he could fix the system, the same system Bettman put in place when he canceled an entire season seven years ago, a system Bettman once called ideal.

Bettman got a lot back from the players, but he didn't get anywhere near what he thought when this began. So if you're keeping score at home, Bettman cost the NHL nearly half a season to get a deal he could have had in place six months ago.

Fans have lost the joy of watching their game, hundreds of players have lost salary they'll never get back, and hundreds of thousands of workers, in and around arenas who rely on the NHL for their salaries, have lost money they'll never recoup.

And for what? Promises Bettman made to six or seven men that he could not keep?

Fans in every NHL city have said they'll never come back, that they are sick of being mistreated by a sport that doesn't appreciate their loyalty.

But my advice is don't punish yourself if you love the game. Don't stay away to get back at Bettman because he doesn't care about whether you return. He's never cared about hockey or you.

Go to the games. Don't cut off your blades to punish your boot.

As for the NHL, there will be many suggestions about how to win back the fans, but it will be the same transparent nonsense that every sport does after a work stoppage.

It's mostly useless.

However, if the owners want to give something back to the fans, if they want to prove they really understand the pain and hear the anger, if they want to make a statement to the paying customer that the owners really get it this time, there is something they can do immediately to prove it.

They can fire Gary Bettman. And they can do it today.

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

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