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Players throwing barbs at Gary Bettman should direct them to their own owners…

I have little regard for either “side” in what will likely soon turn into a nasty little bit of business between the greedy NHL owners and the ‘can never quite have enough money or security’ NHL players.  I guess it all makes for nice theater, but when you’ve seen the same play already so many times before, it just doesn’t have the same appeal.

(Quick aside:  I’d be sympathetic if the negotiations were really about important things, like injury prevention and jointly helping old-time players down on their luck.  I know some time is indeed being spent on player safety, and that's a good thing.  But ensuring that guys making 5 million or whatever a year get even more is not an issue worthy of a lockout/strike. If it weren’t for the absolute greed of both sides - and if they really cared about player health and safety -  they would cut back the regular-season to 70 games and end the season in May.  A shorter schedule would add to rest and recovery time and also reduce injuries.  But neither side wants to lose that juicy extra revenue that creates huge profits—and those astronomically high salaries.)

In any event, it struck me over the past couple of days that we are now beginning to see yet another round of verbal missiles sent the way of NHL owner mouthpiece Gary Bettman.  I expect that from fans.  We have the right to express our frustration with the pace of talks, especially with a new season right around the corner.  And if fans (or media folks who follow the NHL) want to blame Bettman, fair enough, I suppose.

Personally, I neither like nor loathe the commissioner.   I know many fans have despised him now for many years and feel he has done nothing to lift up the game.  Whatever your perspective on that front might be, he is just “doing his job”, as is Mr. Fehr is for the players. So - and I raised this on Twitter the other night - when players begin to take shots at Bettman (which we have seen starting to happen again in recent days, just like last time), I guess deep down I really wish those players calling out or criticizing Bettman would have the guts to make the same claims and comments publicly and direct them at their own team owners.  Because, at the end of the day, Bettman is simply doing what the owners want him—and tell him—to do.

I’m not saying Bettman does not advise, or even influence owners.  But that’s part of his job.  He's a highly paid front man who also acts as their key advisor and strategist.  Sure he has his own personal agenda, and no doubt hopes to leave a lasting legacy of his own some day.  (Didn’t one earlier short-lived commissioner/league President get himself elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame years ago- only to have his nomination, quite properly, rescinded?)  But at the end of the day, the commissioner is replaceable.  If Bettman was gone tomorrow, someone else would take his place and do much the same thing, only with a different personality.  (I'm trying to remember the last NHL "president" or "commissioner" that was truly popular.  They are like politicians, easy to dislike...)

The owners, though, are not so easy to replace.  They are the individuals who run league.  It’s their enterprise.  They make the big bucks (in a lot of cases) but they also pay the big bills- and player salaries, partly thanks to us, the fans.  Especially in recent times, new NHL owners have paid huge money just to join the exclusive "club".

We can claim that the league wouldn’t exist without players, and that’s true.  Elite players have star power and high entertainment value, and are rewarded as such.

But it definitely couldn’t exist without the guys who put up the money and take the business risk, eh?  (Side note: if this particular group of players turned their nose up at making millions, surely others would love the opportunity to play at that level.  Now, these "new" players would not be as good as the current guys, we all understand that.  But fair or not, they would no doubt be called “names” by their critics if they dared to “replace” players who weren’t satisfied with the the privilege of playing in the NHL under very favorable conditions.  On that issue, there is no question players were taken advantage of in the 1950s and ‘60s and needed help to build fairness into the “system”.  But the balance in terms of fairness is pretty good right now, I would argue.  There's tons of money for everyone…)

But here's a question:  would players taking the place of previous NHL’ers actually be acting any worse than Chris Chelios did during the last lockout, when he took the job of a guy making a few thousand dollars a year in the United Hockey League (or whatever it was called) because Chelios wanted to stay in shape and have “competition”?  Was he called names? Wasn't he already accepting money from the NHLPA strike fund, yet he took away, as I recall, the employment of a guy who really needed it? Other players did similarly in other leagues.

But again, I don’t intend to engage in a pro-owner or pro-player debate today. There are plenty of "debating points" on both sides of this issue.  I’m just saying, and you may disagree, that it’s easy for players to criticize Bettman during negotiations.  They have the right to do it, of course.  Thankfully we still have free speech.

My question still is:  would any of them dare to say—publicly or privately—the same things to the guy who actually signs their inflated pay check?  That is, their own team owner?

What do you think?


  1. Michael,

    I think that when all things are considered it becomes a clear case of each individual owner wanting all the other owners to do what is in the best interest of the league while they personally do whatever increases the chances that Bettman hands them the Stanley Cup. As obvious a case of do as I say and not as I do, as I can remember.

    Of course the players would never implore their owner to be miserly. A team full of well regarded and highly paid players should have a better chance of winning the Cup. This is in addition to increasing their own individual stats that their agents will use the next time they need a new contract. Other than the vast sums of money, I am pretty sure that the Cup is the next most important thing to every player. You are right that no one plays for free.

    I did find it very interesting to learn this week that Bettmans compensation for being commissioner is around 8 million dollars a year, when all is said and done. A little too close to the 8.7 million that Crosby gets in my opinion. Hey, if the League is struggling so much perhaps Bettman, Daly and the rest of the legal team should take the same reduction that is being asked of the players.

    I am not going to suggest that I have all the answers, I don't. The only thing I am sure of as I get older is, that I hate both sides a little more each time they pull these kinds of shenanigans. I would like to have used another word to end the previous sentence. Politeness won.

    I will say that if the best idea the owners and their management team can come up with every time the CBA ends is that they need to roll back the players salaries in order to contain costs. Then these guys are nowhere near as smart as everyone seems to give them credit for being. A new idea would have been a nice touch. Unless they haven't had a new idea in seven years. This is my suspicion.

    If the players are always having to take rollback after rollback after rollback. Can someone please explain to me how it is fair that the men who are the product, never get to reap the rewards of the increases that they are at least a part of?

    The players agreed to a rollback of their contracts seven years ago. I can't fathom why they are being asked to do so again. Revenues are up substantially in the NHL.

    All of them, the owners, the players, and Bettman seem to think that there is a vast quantity of goodwill remaining with their fanbase. If there is no hockey this year, count me amongst the many that may be fed up with these spoiled children. I wonder how much money everyone will make if people don't watch the games?

  2. Thanks for a great post, Jim. (And I appreciate your verbal restraint!)

    I realize the players accepted significant rollbacks last time. I get that. I guess when I sound upset with the players, it is in part because they make such absurdly high salaries that, while, yes, they work hard and are skilled in their area, they don't relate to their fans in any meaningful way. They simply don't. And fans ultimately help to pay their huge salaries. Even the lowest-paid NHL'ers are paid way more than most of us can imagine.

    I have so little respect for the owners that I expect nothing, frankly, from them. As you quite accurately say, these guys haven't had a new idea in ages. Asking the players to take less, then offering silly contracts, is assinine- and hypocritical.

    That said, I'm not sure that revenue-sharing (although I'm way out of my depth here...) is the answer, either. It's easy for the players to suggest that one, since it's the owners who already over-spend on player salaries who would pay even more, and then see their money go to teams that don't bother to try and be competitive.

    It's a difficult issue. It's a free market. Players have the right to get as much as they can. If owners try to stick together and keep salaries reasonable, it's called collusion.

    So, given that reality, all it takes every summer is for one owner - even if they have been prudent in the past - to start spending a ton (like Minnesota did this summer) and suddenly salaries jump yet again. There's no solution, really.

    I could not agree more with your final paragraph. Fans have shown goodwill, as you say, but any frustration we feel never seems to translate into less interest. Sadly, as fans, we always come running back- though goodness knows if certain American markets will come back this time, if there is a prolonged lockout.

    Thanks Jim.

  3. Lots of thoughts here, not neccesarily organized so bear with me:
    I may join you in the 'Fed Up' line, Michael, especially with the recent joy of watching the Marlies players compete for far less money...but then again, how much of a protest would watching an MLSE owned team be? Also, correct me if I am wrong, but weren't the Maple Leafs among the teams not pushing for a salary cap during the last labour dispute? Even with a luxury tax they'll still be making tons of cash, as opposed to a lockout which could really, really hurt them. The new owners must realize that if diehards like you and I are ready to walk the plank, that fans may have finally, after suffering through not only 7 years without playoffs, and now an entire lost season, had enough. I would think for this reason, Toronto would be among the teams pushing HARD for a timely start to the season.

    Now allow me to veer off on a tangent and say I have no idea how the rich owners and poor owners will ever agree on a solution. Contraction? Almost everyone I know thinks there are too many teams in the league, and the hockey would be so much better with 21-24 teams...surely it's possible in this terrible economic climate...but the PA isn't exactly going to give up those jobs without a fight. BUT: Rogers, Bell, MSG, Ilitch and Snider didn't get rich by giving away millions of dollars in their non-hockey related businesses, so if anyone can present an argument WHY they should give away even more money now to prop up the Phoenix's, Columbuses, and New Jerseys of the league, I'd like to hear it.
    Complex stuff, indeed.

  4. I must confess to being a little more jaded and capitalistically fatalistic (there's a neologism in there somewhere: fapatolistic?) than both you, Michael and Jim. I guess I see it as it is either a free market or it isn't; the players and owners are either playing sport or doing business, and to assume that we can seek some middle ground seems a desire as certain to birth confusion as it is naive.
    In New Zealand, we struggle with the same dilemma over rugby. It has been a professional sport for many years now, but the fans (who, as you rightly point out, are not an insignificant part of the equation given that they basically pay the bills) don't want to believe it. The want the players to play for the love of the game; they want owners to operate as if the betterment of the sport was their primary goal.
    But barring the western world suddenly and comprehensively swearing allegiance to a different economic philosophy, those times are past.
    Until players refuse 10 year contracts that take them to the broken, doubtful age of 43 because they just don't make sense; until owners stop measuring success by the colour of the bottom line, we are stuck with contract negotiations that will start miles apart and only drift fitfully towards an unhappy centre.
    Sorry for the depressing perspective, Michael. You deserve better.

  5. It is indeed complicated, Sean, and that's the thing. There appears to be no easy solution. I suppose ownership "cares" that fans are fed up, but only to a certain extent. These guys didn't get rich by being held back by emotion.

    I'll be shocked but pleasantly surprised if they find a common ground before January.... Thanks Sean, well said.

  6. Unfortunately KiwiLeaf you speak the truth. We (as a society) are so money driven, where else could we land in this situation. As everyone has basically said today, the owners didn't get wealthy by "caring". Players will naturally take everything they can. (It's the subsequent sense of constant entitlement that really bothers me, I think...)

    Players start as kids playing for the love of the game. Then things shift. The privileged treatment they have always received becomes a habit and voila, here we are: two monumentally wealthy forces who can't decide how to "fairly" cut up the huge pie we help create for them. Sad but true.

    Thanks as always KiwiLeaf.

  7. Michael,

    I decided that I do in fact have all the answers. First order of business is to fire the commissioner and appoint me to the position.

    I have some rule changes to take care of and then on to the CBA.

    First rule change, penalties last 2 minutes. If the power play scores with time remaining on the PP, guess what, still on the PP.

    Icing the puck to kill off a penalty is no longer allowed. Its not during regular play can't see why it should be if your team is shorthanded.

    If you are involved in a fight during the game you are not allowed to stay in the game. Automatic game misconduct.

    No touch icing. Use the international standard. Races for the puck that almost always end with the guy who was ahead touching the puck is reason enough to make the change. Then there is the unnecessary risk of broken legs and backs.

    I don't want to make the nets bigger or move the blue lines out or in. They seem ok as far as I am concerned.

    I will consider moving all play in the League to 4 on 4. I think the pace of the game is much better when everyone has to skate as hard as they can. It would also get rid of the players who are so much better at fighting than they are at the other skills that seem to be required. I will leave the 4 on 4 decision up to the Board of Governors.

    On to the big things. I have folded ten teams in the new NHL. Bettmans grand southern experiment, or the US television footprint was a colossal failure. California can keep the Kings, and Rutherford in Carolina says that they make money. But.

    These teams are gone. Phoenix, San Jose, Anaheim, Florida, Tampa Bay, Nashville, Columbus, Dallas, NYI, and the NJ Devils. I can't make a good argument for any of them to stay in the NHL. They all claim to lose upwards of 20-30 million a year. These owners have had enough time to make a go of it, they failed. I am not in the mood to discuss any possibilities that teams that can only make profit if their payroll is in the 20 -30 million range, need to stay in the League.

    We are going to play a balanced schedule. 76 games total per team. 2 home and 2 road games against every other team. No Conferences, no Divisions. Top 8 after 76 games make the post season. 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7 etc.

    There will be a salary cap, and a floor. Same HRR and percentages as we have now. It was good enough for all these idiots 7 years ago. Things haven't changed that much IMO. Since none of the remaining owners were willing to share revenue with the weaker teams in the League, we aren't going to start now.

    In my vision, a lot of owners had their golden ticket to cry poverty taken from them. A lot of players in the PA are no longer in the NHL. I am sorry, but not that much. What do you think? Do I get the job based on my first 15 minutes?

  8. Jim, my first reaction is: as a newcomer to the job, are you prepared to work for less than 8 million dollars a year? (It seems the guy with previous experience makes that much; you'd likely have to accept less...)

    I think there is a lot of good stuff in your various suggestions. (A little ruthless in spots, but hey, when you're in charge, you have to make hard decisions, at least that's what we're told!)

    You may recall that I posted here a few weeks ago about contracting teams. So I agree with you. I have nothing against those markets (I love how Nashville tries to go about their business) but if they are indeed all "losing money" every year then the business model in those markets doesn't work for hockey. Better to have 20 healthy franchises than a third of the franchises that can't compete.

    I like the smaller schedule (and balanced, yes). Not sure I can support four-on-four, though I acknowledge it is a freer-flowing game given the size and speed of players these days.

    But I'd like to hear how others feel about your ideas. Because of the time of year, I don't think VLM is getting the visits it usually does, but maybe those that drop by will share their views. Thanks Jim.

  9. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for all the feedback. I appreciate the fact that you have kind words for almost everyone who posts a comment. So thank you for that, it is appreciated.

    I will take the commissioners job for twice the league minimum. I agree with you that it is a lot of money. If anyone needs proof, just ask someone that makes $35k. I don't have champagne tastes and caviar dreams. I would be really happy to do something that would be as rewarding as being involved in the game I love so much.

  10. You're more than welcome, Jim. One of the genuine pleasures in hosting this site is engaging in the thoughtful back and forth discussion with individuals such as yourself.

  11. Great post as always Michael.

    As for Bettman, he is the figure-head, so of course he is the primary target for anyone's wrath (players or fans alike). It simply comes with the territory. The only time someone speaks up against their boss (or owner) is when they specifically do (or say) something negative that affects the employee (or player) directly. The owners wisely let Bettman take the heat, and they stay relatively quiet. Now some go and sign ridiculous long-term contracts behind his back, but what player is going to chastize an owner for that?!

    I don't think the fans or the majority of owners want to see these salaries escalate and escalate as they have for the past 15 years (or more). The Cap was implemented to help curtail this, but the owners and agents have found ways to minimize the team's cap hit with long-term front-loaded contracts. Until they close the so-called loopholes in the CBA, escalating salaries (and other problems) will continue. Yes, some owners need to be protected from their own stupidity!

    The NHLPA's latest proposal totally ignores the NHL's proposed CBA changes and instead focuses solely on revenue sharing. Lets not curtail spending, but simply share profits with weak small market teams. This approach somehow reminds me of Monty Python's Dennis Moore. LOL. Let's steal from the rich, give to the poor, and it will make everything better?

    I think there is middle ground to be had, but right now the two sides are trying to pull in a similar direction but using opposite ends of the rope. Hard to imagine they'll solve this in a month.

    My final thought is regarding the players who make up the bottom half of the NHL. What do the third and fourth line players get out of these proposals?? Keeping small market teams healthier financially may give them a bit more job security and money, but their richer brothers (playing the first and second lines) continue to take home the lion's share of the money. Bettman is trying to represent all owners. Is Fehr properly representing ALL players, or moreso the higher profile players? I don't care what Stamkos, Crosby or Ovechkin think about the proposals, lets hear from the third and fourth line veterans.

  12. Thanks TML__fan. Hopefully hockey won't be reduced, in the coming months, to daily updates about the latest proposals, the other side's response, and speculation about what comes next. We've seen that movie too often and it's a shame.

    Players will always suggest revenue sharing. That doesn't hurt them- it just punishes teams who already spend too much- or make a profit. So that's the players' easy response to everything.

    Yes, last time was supposed to be a step in cutting back on escalating salaries and expenses. It didn't work.

    You raise a very good point about the full NHL membership. Hopefully their concerns will be dealt with in a thoughtful way.

    Thanks for contributing on this one, TML__fan.

  13. Jim,

    The commissioner doesn't decide on any of those matters.

    As the commissioner, you would be a mouth piece for the owners. They will tell you what to say and how to say it. You are employed to keep the heat off their shoulders.

    The leafs are owned by BELL and ROGERS. Fans mention that they'll boycott the leafs.. woopee doo.. You're going to boycott the wrong thing!!

    Fans should be boycotting Bell and Rogers, Little Ceasar, or whatever company the owners own.
    Some of the owners have charities, events, etc. Boycott those... protest there!

    Fans will grumble and complain, but they'll renew their season tickets anyways. Fans will never take the steps to actually do anything and for that reason the fans have no voice in these talks.

  14. I like a lot of Jim's ideas, Chuck. But I understand what you're saying, for sure. Bettman's job is to advise the owners, yes, but also be their front man and take the hits, as you say.

    I agree that fans unfortunately don't change their behaviour after being dismissed by both sides. We always come running back.

  15. After reading Jim's comments and Chuck's concerns about the powers of a Commissioner, I would be prepared to appoint Jim as Omnipotent Czar of the NHL. I like his plans for the game.
    I thought Michael Grange's analysis of the players' counter proposal was really well done. Check it out at
    I don't think this will be settled any time soon.

  16. That title has a nice ring to it, Ed. Maybe that would be good enough for Jim!

    I fully agree, by the way, I don't see this dispute being settled until January....especially after hearing the comments tonight from Bettman and Fehr.

  17. Michael and Ed,

    I will humbly and graciously accept that job title. As well as the responsibilities that I am sure will accompany it. Thank you gentlemen, the previously agreed upon remuneration will do nicely. The business cards are being printed as we speak. I personally cannot wait to see Bettmans face when I show up in New York.

  18. Now that would be a hoot, Jim. Show up at the next Board of Governors meeting and say, "Thanks to some of the guys at VLM...I humbly accept the post of Czar....".

    If money weren't an object, it would almost be worth that trip to New York, Jim, just to see how those guys would react....

    Your salary demands are more than reasonable, by the way.