Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Team Bettman takes an early lead

Bob Goodenow is going to need to take the offence, in the first period it was a solid performance by Team Bettman, as the NHL Commissioner laid out his league’s position on the current labour impasse. As part of the CBC’s National news, Gary Bettman sat down with chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge for a once over regarding the NHL lockout. For those that missed the show, the CBC has a streaming video version of it.

Bettman took the shots from Peter Mansbridge, the crushing body checks from an in house audience and wasn’t caught with his head down, on the set up video pieces. For the most part the Commissioner handled all that was thrown at him rather well. Speaking on behalf of the owners, he once again said he didn’t begrudge the players the money they have made in the past, but said that the current financial situation dictates that a change must be made and this was the time to make it.

There were many calls for him to “contract” the league, letting the poorer sisters fall by the wayside, but he took care of that well by suggesting that what if one of the Canadian cities were one of the struggling teams, should the NHL cut them adrift? Pointing to Ottawa’s near death experience of a year ago, he suggested that once the NHL’s financial picture was on more solid ground then the chances of any franchise having to be eliminated or moved would be slim. He even held out the carrot of somewhere down the line a return to such hockey hotbeds as Winnipeg.

And while he may have been just boosting the spirits of River city, it none the less did help hit home the point he was trying to make. With salaries taking up 76% of revenues, there really would be no hope for the game in places such as Winnipeg and Quebec City, should the league get that percentage down to around 60% then perhaps it’s feasible for hockey in the smaller markets.

For fifty minutes he answered the questions, he didn’t say anything new, but did manage to at least keep his message on track and in the public’s mind. More importantly he came across as calm, measured and knowledgeable, not nearly as edgy and combative as he has in past sessions with Ron McLean.

Try as he might, Peter Mansbridge however could not get Bettman to commit to a meeting any time soon with the NHLPA, Bettman claiming that until the union is ready to address real change, then a meeting probably wasn’t on. Leaving the CBC anchor to try and work his mediation skills on Bob Goodenow on Wednesday night.

The puck is now in Goodenow’s end of the ice and it will be interesting to see how he can answer the blue print put forward by the Commissioner. Having said that a salary cap is not on their radar, the question remains how the players will win if the league is intent on enforcing one. Most hockey fans can understand the idea of wanting to make more money, but when the actual job itself is at stake they might wonder about the wisdom of the fight at hand. Once you start dealing in millions of dollars the average hockey fan can't relate, owners, players it doesn't matter who gets the lions share, they just want the game back on the ice and back soon. With a billion dollar industry at stake, one would think the parties at hand could find a way to ensure that everyone wins in some capacity!

No doubt Peter and the studio audience will get to the bottom of all of this for us. But heading into the action Wednesday, it’s definitely an advantage to the Bettman forces. The Goodenow gang will have to bring their A game to the table Wednesday as they battle for the hearts and minds of the Canadian hockey fan.

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