Bettman should consider stepping away from talks | Hockey | CBC Sports

NHLBettman should consider stepping away from talks

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2012 | 06:31 PM

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is a fine negotiator, but is his presence at the bargaining table preventing progress at this point? (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press) NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is a fine negotiator, but is his presence at the bargaining table preventing progress at this point? (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

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If I had to win one negotiation to save my life, Gary Bettman would be on the (very) short list. But, at this stage of the NHL's labour talks, his presence is more of a roadblock than a bridge.
This is not a cataclysmic time for the highest level of professional hockey - at least not yet.

Gary Bettman made it clear he's annoyed that the NHLPA doesn't seem to be taking the Saturday night end-of-CBA deadline seriously. But the honest truth is it doesn't mean anything. The pressure points arrive in October, and these deals don't get done until someone really stands to lose something.

So what we get is rhetoric. No progress, just lots of tough sound bytes. And a real glimpse of frustration bubbling beneath the surface. Earlier this week, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, annoyed by a wasted travel day, told Chris Johnston of The Canadian Press the NHLPA's attempts to declare the lockout illegal in Quebec and Alberta were "a joke."

When Donald Fehr said the league abandoned the battle in Alberta, Daly told RDS's Renaud Lavoie that "Don doesn't know what he's talking about." Bettman then waded in with his "limited-time-only" proposal Wednesday before adding Thursday that owners unanimously support his decision to lock out the players if the CBA expires without a new agreement.

About the commissioner, Zach Parise told The Chicago Sun-Times' Adam Jahns "He loves his lockouts." Meanwhile, Sportsnet's John Shannon quoted Jarome Iginla as saying the players have been "bullied" throughout this process.

Joffrey Lupul tweeted "I don't see why Gary thinks its [sic] in leagues [sic] best interest to try to turn the public against the same players that the league has to market."

Eight years ago, there was zero chance the NHLPA was getting any kind of new CBA without Bob Goodenow's head on a silver platter. The league/owners *hated* Goodenow and were going to 1) get a cap and 2) take him down. He'd done such a great job financially for his constituency that he had to be both defeated and removed.

Goodenow's plan was to sit out two years to "win." This was a Hindenburg-esque strategy. It was time for him to go.

Bettman and Goodenow couldn't stand each other because they are so similar. Driven, unyielding, possessed to prevail. This is their "hockey game." Someone once said that Goodenow loved the boardroom battles more than the on-ice ones. Bettman is probably the same.

The players don't have the ability to get Bettman fired. But I do believe they are starting to see him as the owners saw Goodenow. This will be the third stoppage of Bettman's tenure, which, depending on how you keep score, puts him with Bowie Kuhn (MLB, 1969-82) and/or Pete Rozelle (NFL 1960-89) atop the all-time leaderboard.

We've all dealt with the "bad cop" in negotiations. He or she is there to say all the things we don't like to hear. Sometimes, however, that bad cop needs to be removed because they become a deterrent to the process.

You don't trust them, don't believe them, don't want to hear a single thing they have to say.

For the players, Bettman has reached that point. If I had to win one negotiation to save my life, he'd be on the (very) short list. But, right here and right now, his presence is more of a roadblock than a bridge. Despite the craziness of this situation, there is room over the next couple of weeks to let someone else step in and see where we go. (That person is probably Daly. He was stranded at Toronto's Pearson Airport when he snapped. Any traveller can understand that.)

Now, there is about a 0.000000000000001 chance anyone at the league (or among ownership) is going to follow this advice. After all, Bettman is the bad cop, so someone else doesn't have to be. And he does have defenders who point out he's been privately respectful, both in these negotiations and recent rules meetings with the likes of Steven Stamkos and Jason Spezza.

(Surely, the league isn't thrilled with Fehr, but he's new to this process.)

Sometimes a fresh face or a new approach can make a difference. Bettman still wields the hammer and can ride in at the end to close the deal. But he is the one constant from 1994 and 2004. The people on the other side of the table see that. It's certainly possible that things are so SNAFU'd that it doesn't matter who's doing the talking. But if the NHL is serious about starting the season on time, what's the harm in switching your starting goalie?

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