In labour circles, they say you get the union you deserve. For that reason alone, the announcement of the NHL’s CBA settlement early Sunday should mark the end of the Gary Bettman era in the NHL.
If there’s a singular failure of his 20-years-plus as commissioner it has been his failure to create a mature relationship with the league’s most valuable asset, its players. Instead, he and the hawks in ownership have relied on a sledgehammer approach that finally got them the adversary they deserved: Don Fehr.
The disastrous results of that gambit are plain even as negotiators try to get some sleep before revealing the terms of the deal.
Fans could understand using the lockout mechanism once. Twice? Only in dire circumstances. But to lockout players three times, once for an entire season, to win concessions that are being accomplished in MLB without labour interruption? Inexcusable.
There were good reasons to alter Bettman’s “idiot-proof” CBA from 2004-05. His expansion/equity business plan needs a major overhaul. Players had once again outmanoeuvred teams in getting longterm deals. Revenue sharing could be refined. But to shut down the industry, drive the moderate players into Fehr’s arms?
All to save a 1990s vision of salary caps, expansion and cowed players. As the song says, there ain’t no future in the past. But the NHL keeps trying to refine it.
There will be an attempt to pretty up the car wreck Bettman created. His allies in ownership will prop him up for the sake of respectability. They’ll talk about the great work he’s done. But the collateral damage of his strategy will be too much for even the most obstinate owner to ignore.
Drop-dead issues were abandoned, lines in the sand washed away, credibility tossed away with every contradictory statement. Time to say adios, Mr. Bettman.
Money talks and Gary should walk
Fans have rarely mattered in the cloisters of the NHL headquarters. Their understandable ire won’t be the impetus for Bettman’s downfall. The league thinks a Hallmark sentiment painted on the ice should placate them.
No, it will be the corporate crowd, so assiduously cultivated the past decade by COO John Collins, and the broadcasters, the real key to the NHL’s future, who will insist that Gary must go. After all his reversals of field and deceptions the past decade, they regard him as the scorpion in the fable about the scorpion who stings the frog halfway across the river, drowning both.
This destructive behaviour is simply in his corporate DNA. Conciliation is not in his vocabulary. They can’t trust him to provide when they launch product. Broadcasters left with months of no programming can’t rely on Bettman to keep his business from running into the ditch. League executives empowered to search out business were hung out to dry, begging their clients for patience, always more patience.
There was a deal here for the NHL and NHLPA months ago. Moderates in the NHLPA would have bent to compromise if a hand had been extended in partnership. Instead, they received a punch in the nose, the NHL’s fallback policy for negotiating.
There’s only one way to start fresh on a decade of healing and growth. That is to give Bettman the gold watch and get into the 21st century.
Lights, camera, action!
The year has been a write-off for the NHL’s corporate clients, but broadcasters must now get up to speed quickly. CBC and the Canadian sports networks we’ve talked to are ready to do just that, once they get a schedule from the league. Expect the first Hockey Night In Canada (and Coach’s Corner) on Jan. 19 with a possible tripleheader.
The wild card in the broadcast puzzle is the suggestion that there will be additional playoff teams this spring, providing extra premium dates for networks hit by the four-month lockout. How and when those games will be played is for the upcoming days.
As the national rights holder, CBC gets first dibs on any high-profile games left on the calendar. If there’s flexibility they can request Montreal/ Toronto matchups, for instance, to bolster their schedule. Once again, they will have first choice on schedule when the playoffs roll around in April.
TSN, which conveniently has just finished the WJC, would have the second call for games in what remains of the schedule. Finally, Sportsnet, with its regional coverage, will take what’s left from the whirlwind process (while comforting itself with thoughts of the upcoming Blue Jays season).
With major negotiations upcoming for the national rights to start in 2014, the NHL needs to mend these fences. Fast.
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