And so it ends
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports
February 16, 2005
Can we start with that now that hockey is finished?
Can we beg and plead with the players and owners to agree on one thing – that these two egomaniacs they put in charge of engaging in a game of corporate chicken have proven themselves a couple of clowns?
Can we plead that both sides not just fire these two, but put them on a rail and ship them to Flin Flon?
The NHL season is done, officially called off by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Wednesday, because neither he nor union leader Bob Goodenow could get their priorities in order.
It wasn't about getting a deal done. It was about getting the other guy.
The two sides reportedly didn't even talk Wednesday, fiddling while the ice burned.
Not one phone call? Not one fax? Not one counteroffer?
Let's start with Goodenow, who has some serious explaining to do to his jilted players' association. He caved on the salary cap but then wouldn't jump on the NHL's final offer – a $42.5 million ceiling – even though it was unlikely he'd ever see a better deal.
After the players' association proposed a 24 percent salary rollback, only four teams would have a current payroll over $42.5 million. This deal would have come as close as possible to maintaining the rich status quo, even though any fool can see revenue is going to drop with bad television deals, widespread fan unrest and sponsorship losses.
Moreover, making the deal was the best chance at keeping the league at its present 30 teams. Major contraction might be good for the competitive sake of the NHL, but it isn't good for protecting union jobs.
How he let this one pass, how he spun a 180 in the 11th hour on the salary cap, how he left the union open to be eventually broken is unfathomable.
So be gone with him. Please. Fire him this afternoon.
Not that Bettman deserves some Nobel Prize for fair negotiations. There is no denying that under his stewardship the NHL has been run into the grave. The league has been mismanaged, misplaced, overexpanded and overpriced, all because Bettman turned his back on the core fans – believing there was a pot of television and corporate (fool's) gold at the end of the small market rainbow.
The reason the cap needed to be at $42.5 million, and not Goodenow's $49 million, is because the league is leaking oil.
Bettman has been a complete and utter failure as commissioner. There is no other way to describe his tenure. He took a historic business, made major operating changes and, 13 years later, it no longer exists. That's a disaster, no matter how freshly pressed his monogrammed shirts are.
To make matters worse were his negotiating tactics in the final hours. If Bettman wanted to do a deal and not do in Goodenow, he would have quietly offered an olive branch, found common ground, negotiated in private.
He would have recognized the strength and weaknesses of his opponent. He would have met in the middle, not just on the salary cap numbers, but personally.
Instead, he released a juvenile, snippy letter to the media last night – negotiating through the Associated Press wire – in a move that clearly boxed Goodenow into a corner. Bettman couldn't wait to show the world he was winning this battle, he couldn't avoid flaunting and taunting, he couldn't stand to give his rival a way out.
If Bettman wanted hockey, if Bettman wanted a season, if Bettman wanted a deal, he should have acted like it.
So be gone with him too. Please. Fire him this afternoon.
There is no hockey because two suits who don't care enough about hockey killed it. Two guys who see this as only a business and not a sport, who saw these negotiations as a personal test of wills rather than a partnership, who cared only about individual glory and not passion, tradition and history.
The NHL doesn't exist right now. Its problems are massive. Not just the collective bargaining agreement, but its quality of play and its connection with the fans.
The current leaders have killed a sport. They created this mess. They shouldn't be trusted to clean it up.
So let's start the rebirth with new leaders.
Wayne Gretzky? Brian Burke? Ken Dryden? Mario Lemieux?
I'd take Don Cherry and Barry Melrose at this point.
At least I know they care about hockey and not just themselves.
Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Wednesday, Feb 16, 2005 1:07 pm, EST