While the collective feeling was one of optimism on Tuesday and Wednesday as a group of owners and players met in a conscious effort to hammer out a new deal, the attitude was simple: keep Bettman and Fehr out of it and a deal is imminent.
That wasn’t the case. I woke up Thursday morning, opened up TSN.ca and the first thing I saw was Bettman and Fehr to join the meetings. I’d love to sound like a cockeyed Pollyanna but when I saw that, I gave up any hope I had.
Certain owners, including Larry Tanenbaum of the Toronto Maple Leafs, were so disillusioned that they actually left the meetings yesterday. Donald Fehr and the players then put forth a proposal for an eight-year CBA and, to the disgust of everyone and the surprise of no one, the NHL quickly rejected the offer. Worse, the league was juvenile enough to leave the union a voicemail. Despite being in the same building (possibly the same floor), no one from the league had the courage to tell the union what they thought face-to-face.
I’m not going to fully excuse the player’s union. Obviously it takes two sides to make a catastrophe out of this and I definitely have my reservations about Donald Fehr (hell, I just don’t like the guy) but just looking at NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman makes me angry and it makes me want to rant.
When he spoke to the media last night, Gary Bettman did what he does best: lied through his teeth. Gary Bettman is nothing short of a callous, evil man who somehow manages to sleep at night – and good for him on that because to everyone on the outside, it’s unfathomable to understand how unaffected he truly is by this.
The fact that he has frustrated players, fans and analysts alike yet he walks around with a swagger like he has no idea the effect he leaves on everything and everyone around him is simply frightening. The worst human beings are the ones who do harm and don't have the ability to show remorse and that is exactly what I think of Gary Bettman.
You can say what you will about Fehr and the players but at least you could see some frustration, even a little bit of despondency, from them last night when they took the podium that second time to announce the league's rejection. To keep giving and giving only to have their offers immediately shut down and deemed “not acceptable”, is simply inexcusable.
To listen to Bettman suggest that his week has been “an emotional rollercoaster” and that he is “disappointed beyond belief” makes me sick to my stomach. This ridiculous excuse of a man has never cared about this game. Then, to suggest that he’s thinking of the well-being of the fans just angered me more because he has never cared about the fans. Never mind that they supply the funds for his paycheck, if their names aren’t Gary Bettman then good riddance to them. And to top it all off, Bettman suggested that the union should have put forth a proposal in October or in August and that just infuriated me even more. Does Gary Bettman really expect us to believe that he was burning the candle at both ends during the summer to get a new deal done? Of course he does because in his sick little mind, he thinks he’s a good man.
Why he was hired in the first place, I don’t even remember. Looking at his face makes my blood boil – and that doesn’t even happen with me. I don’t even know what to say anymore. If I didn’t love my hair so much, I’d be pulling it out.
ESPN and TSN hockey analyst Pierre Lebrun hit the nail on the head last night:
“There’s no excuse for this. This is shaping up to be in my opinion one of the most embarrassing labour negotiations in the history of pro sports. Honestly, I mean that. This should have been a simple negotiation last summer. You’re moving some commas, the players have to go from 57 to 50 per cent; it happened in the NBA, it happened in the NFL. We’re not recreating a system; I think the politics of intervene got this off the rails and there’s absolutely no excuse. There should have been a deal done by now.”
So, there you have it. While fans have been essentially saying the same thing for months now, it’s a much different story to have a hockey analyst of Lebrun’s calibre who was actually in New York to witness yesterday’s events say this. Yes, this is a business and Bettman and Fehr are businessmen but this has been taken too far. There doesn’t seem to be anyone that can stop this train wreck and that makes me fear for the future of this once-respected league.
Will Bettman be affected by this? Of course not. If he had the ability to feel remorse, he would but he doesn’t. He’s a sorry excuse of a man and if nothing else, he’s living proof that even the dumbest person can go to law school as long as he or she knows how to hide and take the easy way out when it really matters. Case in point: the voicemail.
Everyone outside of the Bettman entourage is beyond frustrated. Players like Brandon Prust said that he was done caring over his Twitter account while many fans just don’t want to hear anything – and who can blame them? I post about how there might be a reason for optimism only to have it dashed (mostly thanks to an intervention from Bettman and/or Fehr). And how do you think that makes me feel? "Hey fans, good news!" followed by "Sorry. False alarm." If that happened once, fine. When that happens every couple of weeks, it's beyond unbelievable.
More than anything, I would love to tell you that a deal will get done but I just don’t have any optimism. Donald Fehr has certainly done his part to stain the game but for a man responsible for three lockouts and, barring a miracle, two canceled seasons, Gary Bettman needs, for once, to take accountability like any responsible adult would. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. Bettman doesn’t have the courage to do such a thing - and he never will.
To listen to him name the work stoppages of the other three major sports last night was laughable. It was most interesting because unlike all of the examples he used, none of the other three major sports had to experience multiple work stoppages under one man and worse, none of them (and I mean none of them) had the sheer audacity and stupidity to cancel an entire season.
Gary Bettman ruined this game and Gary Bettman will pay dearly for what he’s done.
Photo: Courtesy of Shaun Best/Reuters