Wednesday night on CBC, Ron MacLean and Gary Bettman engaged in yet another televised debate about the NHL's finances and future. They both got their shots in, both made their points and the hockey world was buzzing about the tense, sometimes acrimonious match of wits:
Whew ... hug it out, gents.
There was a ton of information and several debates crammed into that eight-or-so minutes. Coming up, a tale of the tape between MacLean and Bettman; who scored the most points and won this latest round of "Gary Bettman vs. The Great White North"?
Here's how this latest debate between Grand Canadian Inquisitor Ron MacLean and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman broke down:
MacLean warbles "Happy Birthday," and Bettman compares him to Marilyn Monroe. Yet it's all a setup to point out that Bettman has a wicked sunburn.
MacLean congratulates him on the graduation of his daughter from Cornell; then blows it by wishing Bettman was "dizzy and all confused" from potential sun poisoning.
MacLean begins the inquisition on NHL owners "throwing back the keys" to their teams due to financial hardship. His first case was the Florida Panthers; Bettman corrected him by saying Alan Cohen was still a minority partner and had equity in the team, which was news to MacLean.
Next up were Len Barrie and Oren Koules throwing keys in Tampa; Bettman said they made money and the franchise value was "far more than was reported."
Score this one for Bettman; he came off as in control of the facts, even if there's no telling if they're marinated in bull excrement.
Bettman's playing the trap, and MacLean coughs up the puck. In an attempt to validate the line of questioning as relevant to the players' plight, MacLean talks about "all the escrow, they're worried about franchise values and the money they're getting."
Bettman: "Franchise values has nothing to do with escrow."
He's right in a superficial way, but obviously stronger teams in stronger markets mean more revenue, which speaks directly to escrow. Still, there is no direct link between the money kept in escrow and the money generated by, say, a new partner buying into an NHL franchise, which is the current situation for teams like Carolina and St. Louis.
MacLean said something after Bettman's retort, but all we heard was "you're dead right on that." And boom goes the dynamite.
The concept of "real dollars" is one lost on us, because we cheated our way through most of the economics classes we had in college. So perhaps it's a technical term.
However, Bettman referring to "Canadian dollars" in comparison to "real dollars" is going to seem like an insult to 99 percent of the Canadian viewers of this debate.
Look, buddy, just because there's a duck on the money ...
MacLean tries to paint Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks as "turning back the keys" to the NHL, which is a tough case to make when he's also tossing in the keys for Liverpool F.C. and the Texas Rangers.
MacLean then asks about Bill Gallacher attempting to buy the Stars, and Bettman says a bunch of nonsense about due diligence and non-disclosure agreements for a league that's (a) approved more criminals than a prison rubber stamp and (b) has engaged in public negotiations for the Phoenix Coyotes for the last year.
This one's close; we'll give it to CBC.
A discussion of Peter Karmanos trying to find a new partner to own the Carolina Hurricanes suddenly turns into Gollum becoming Smeagol.
Bettman plays the martyr, talking about how great the playoffs are and wondering what "inside" MacLean "compels" him to go on the offensive about franchise values. Bettman points to the camera and says he doesn't believe it's what the viewers want to see.
MacLean says "it's for the players"; Bettman says that if he has the players in mind, then it's a disservice to focus on this while they're putting on a show in the Stanley Cup Finals.
MacLean then goes back to escrow, which Bettman again says isn't linked to the conversation they're having.
Sympathy for the devil. Not MacLean's finest moment.
After some sniffing around the yard on Nashville and St. Louis, MacLean finds the bones buried in Phoenix. He asks about the ownership situation, the money Glendale is putting up for "insurance" and the potential for lawsuits.
Bettman attempts to deflect the shot by bringing up the feelings of the Coyotes players and their families, which is on a "kissin' babies" level of political pandering. Total non-answers for a situation that's running out of solutions.
MacLean's already had it out with Bettman about Phoenix; simply bringing it up is a win, but there should have been much, much more about the owners losing millions in this mess.
MacLean asks about Southern Ontario, and Bettman throws Winnipeg and Quebec City up on the cross, wondering why the big bad TV man doesn't want to "right the wrongs" of previous relocations and wants to focus on the Toronto market instead.
Gary scores with sympathy for "small market" Canadian fans. But Hartford isn't amused, sir.
Bettman nearly goes off the rails about MacLean's rhetorical habit of using "the players" as a basis for arguing his own views.
MacLean cites Forbes and Sports Business Journal as sources, admits the NHLPA is in disarray and then concedes the point to Bettman. Ouch.
The Olympics are briefly mentioned, with MacLean talking about their windfall profits and Bettman talking about how hockey was "the biggest thing" at the Vancouver Games.
He said the NHL is studying an Olympic effect, which is a 180 for a league that was swearing up and down that there wasn't one during the regular season.
Big money and a carryover to the NHL season? Sochi, here we come!
MacLean wishes they had more time, acknowledges it was confrontational.
Bettman says it wasn't confrontational, exhibiting an inability to stop spinning even in the goodbyes.
Gary Bettman takes the decision, 6-5. He held his own during the interview's most contentious moments, coming off well-informed and counterpunching effectively.
And MacLean made the worst mistake you can make with Bettman, which is allowing the most loathsome commissioner in sports to come off as populist (the Winnipeg/Quebec City issue) and sympathetic (the playoffs have been great, so back off, man).