Sunday, February 08, 2004

Armageddon preview: The Bob and Gary show

Whew, these guys are really starting to heat things up! Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow addressed the media at the All Star celebrations in Minnesota today, and the tone was ugly. Bettman gave his state of the league address to the assembled media, challenging the version of negotiations that Mr. Goodenow is expressing of late. The contentious issue is the infamous Salary cap, Bettman instead prefers to refer to the need for salary certainty, whatever that may be. Basically the owners want some kind of system in place, where player costs don't overrun revenues.

For their part the players association is digging in it's heels, they are telling the players that they need to be prepared for a two year shut down. The players say they believe the owner's have much more to lose with a disruption than the players. Jeremy Roenick, never short of an opinion, asked the media types if the likes of Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Buffalo and Carolina were going to be able to wait two years before they go back into business.

The mere mention of a two year dispute frustrates Mr. Bettman to no end. He accuses the players association of not dealing with reality, Bettman says that things could be settled rather quickly if they only accepted the concept of "cost certainty".

The Commissioner also took time out from the verbal warnings to comment on the recent rumours of the return of Winnipeg. Bettman said he found it doubtful that the city would be returning to the NHL soon, either by franchise relocation or expansion, despite the construction of their new arena in the downtown area. A comment that won't win him many friends in Manitoba or the rest of Canada for that matter. In a league where attendance plummets in cities that have never warmed up to hockey, it seems ridiculous to turn your back on hockey markets that live and breathe hockey.

That perhaps is why the players feel so secure in their position. They can go play in Europe next year or spend some time in the new WHA, which vows to be ready for September. Biding their time in France, Italy, Germany or Sweden isn't a bad way to suffer through a labour dispute. The owners may be faced with dormant franchises, mothballed for two years or more. Not many suits fit the same after two years of non use. One wonders if the suits in the NHL offices are willing to take that risk.

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