Thread: GDT: The lockout thread
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09-18-2012, 03:41 PM
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This is all so ridiculous.

It's become a total and utter cliche to criticize Bettman around here, but how can anyone defend this guy anymore? Yes, he is a mouthpiece for the owners. Yes, he's seen some success as commissioner of the league. But looking at the fiscal history, overall, of the NHL over the past 20 years, where are his contributions? Under his tenure, the league has increased revenue? So why are so many teams crying poor?

So many of the pro-owners fans have the same agenda they recite over and over again. The league is generating more revenue today than it was eight years ago, the PA is being unreasonable, the players think they are partners when they are not. Some of that has merit and some of it doesn't.

As far as revenue is concerned, I think it's misleading and disingenuous to claim "the league" is generating record revenue when it's the elite super group (Toronto, Montreal, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Vancouver, Chicago, etc.) making all the money. It's a great phrase to coin, saying, "the NHL has generated record revenues" when in reality only a dozen teams are making good money. You can't yell "profit!" one day then claim huge employee costs are a necessity the next. It doesn't make sense and it's not true. Enough of the pandering. Say it how it is. "Yes, we have quite a few teams doing very well financially, but more than half of the league is drowning in red ink."

I think Spector raised quite a few valid points regarding Bettman's tenure, with two standout arguments:

1. Bettman's inability to encourage and enforce the fiscally responsible management of franchises. Other than the Kovalchuk situation, in which Bettman and the league arbitrarily drew their line in the sand, there has been next to zero pressure on teams to operate responsibly. Mega deal after mega deal has been drafted and signed since the inception of the cap system with little to no backlash from the league. If these gargantuan albatross contracts are hurting the league financially by a. making it difficult for poorer teams to keep up, and b. burdening the league as a whole with monstrous cash obligations, then why hasn't Bettman stepped in? Why have the owners and the league sat back and twiddled their thumbs while 10+ year retirement contracts became outlandishly burdensome? It is the commissioner's job, even as a figurehead, to encourage sound economic practice within the league. If the NBA is bold enough to block lopsided trades in an effort to preserve the integrity of the game, and the NFL is suspending entire coaching staffs for perceived irresponsible behavior, then where is the NHL's leadership? Right or wrong in their specific decisions, other leagues are at least demonstrating that the buck does indeed stop at a certain office, whereas the NHL seems to demand zero accountability all the way down the totem pole. The only top down structure of accountability we seem to have is a widely criticized player safety board and a commissioner that acts more like a Yes Man for the ownership group than a pillar of ethical business practice for the league to follow.

2. Bettman's inability to properly grow franchises in non-traditional hockey markets and a refusal to acknowledge any wrongdoing in said decision. This has been discussed to hell and back, but the numbers don't lie. We had two unquestionably failed sunbelt teams in Atlanta and Phoenix. One has been relocated; the other is in instant limbo, likely to be eventually relocated. Added to that are additional southern expansion teams that, despite success, ebb and flow in revenue and are consistently ranked among the "have-nots" of the league (Tampa Bay, Anaheim, Carolina, Nashville, Florida, Columbus) - all of which were created with Bettman at the helm, except for Tampa. Regardless of the usual morally driven and xenophobic auto-responses to this discussion, I think everyone can agree that, as a whole, pertaining to the overall financial viability of the NHL, that sunbelt expansion has been a demonstrative failure. These franchises may have helped "grow" the sport in the sense that there may be more ice hockey rinks in Tennessee today than there was 10 years ago, but for the most part, these teams are consistently ranked among the franchises needing the most financial aid. But moreso than ANY of this, whether you vehemently disagree or not, Bettman and the league have refused to address these failures in their expansion teams. Other than letting Atlanta go (and immediately seeing a spike in calculated league wide revenue) what has the league done to address these problems? They've held onto Phoenix like a child that refuses to give up their favorite binky despite massive losses, a public relations disaster, and next to zero proof that their "end game" with the entire situation is even viable. What kind of message is this?

There is a very real and very recognizable lack of competent leadership at the very top of the league, so why should we expect anything more than constant labor disputes and CBA re-drafts? We're talking about the only major sports entity in North America to lockout for an entire season in the last 20 years, despite being the fourth ranked in popularity. If that doesn't tell you everything you need to know about the NHL's state as of today, then I don't know what does. The owner's shoulder just as much blame for this financial catastrophe as Bettman himself, if not more, but Bettman, as a man in a position of authority, whether real or imagined, has utterly failed to properly manage this league.

And don't for one second think I'm a PA horn blower. They've acted equally ridiculous throughout this entire process. This union has backstabbed, deceived, and imploded their way into multiple poor CBA decisions for decades now, and I didn't expect much more this year. The fact that this entity refused to even begin negotiations until the 11th hour tells you all you need to know about their motivations and collective next-fraction-of-a-second foresight. Shame on the PA for not even being willing to make concessions in negotiations and shame on them for trying to turn this into yet another public relations media war of words.

There were two clear early indicators of a lockout this year.

1. The hiring of Don Fehr. Those that have followed baseball, or any professional sport for that matter, knew what the hiring of Fehr was all about. Fehr has a history of combating lockouts, organizing strikes, and demonstrating unrelenting control and unity over a PA. He brought the MLB to its knees years ago and can likely do so again with the NHL, especially with a splintered ownership group. By hiring a man like Fehr, with that kind of reputation, the NHLPA sent a clear message to the league that they weren't rolling over this time, which all but ensured another lockout.

2. The signings of Parise, Suter, and Weber, totaling a combined approximate $300 million dollars, all from teams crying poor. If this doesn't paint the league as confused, hypocritical, or downright self destructive, I don't know what does. These moves, more than anything else, exposed the ownership group for what it was. The league had nothing to stand on after this, no tears to illicit for all the wittle teams going broke. It came to no surprise to hear Westgarth talk so candidly about these signings in particular. You can't cry poor one day and spend $200 million dollars on two players the next. Completely ridiculous. Either these ownership groups are outright deceitful regarding their business practices, or totally out of touch. I don't know which is scarier at this point.

In closing, this league is on its last leg in America as a "top four" professional sports entity. Where we go from here, who the hell knows. At least the Kings got their cup before the whole house of cards really starts tumbling down.

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