My Two Cents: Cancellation Of Winter Classic Further Proves Bettman Unfit To Continue As Commissioner

My Two Cents for November 6th, 2012:

Feb. 9, 2012; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; General view of Michigan Stadium during an NHL press conference for the 2013 Winter Classic between Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

Winter Classic Falls in the wake of Lockout Turmoil- As the NHL Lockout continues on it’s course to destroy what it left of what was supposed to be the 2012-13 season, the NHL on November 2nd made official the cancellation of this season’s Winter Classic which would have been played on New Years Day. This event which would have not only just showcased the NHL in a 104,000 seat stadium at the University of Michigan, also would have showcased minor league hockey and even college hockey outside of the match between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. The NHL’s reasoning is with the lockout not looking to be settled anytime soon, and with payments for use of the facility due to the University of Michigan, there was no way to guarantee the event could take place because of the lockout. The NHL however did state that in the cancellation of this event, the Winter Classic is realistically just delayed until next season and will have the event in the Detroit area, with the Red Wings and Maple Leafs to be the teams involved. The event still may take place at the University of Michigan Stadium (aka “The Big House”), or possibly at Comerica Park which is where baseball’s Detroit Tigers play their home games.

The big losers here again are the players who many looked forward to playing in a 104,000 seat stadium, which would have set an all time record for attendance at an NHL game. The big losers here are also the fans, but in particular, the fans who made plans many months in advance (some up to a year in advance). Many of these fans coming from outside the Detroit-Ann Arbor areas would have flown in for the event, many of whom made reservations for flights that may be non-refundable. Many also made hotel reservations in the area which also may be non-refundable forcing those to eat the reservations since many probably would have had no other reason to visit the Detroit area that time of year unless they have relatives or family there. Though family “Get Togethers” are nice, that probably wasn’t the only reason for the trip. In addition, all game tickets now have to be refunded since all events around this game were also cancelled as well. So now you have fans that are displaced that may have to eat both airfare and hotel reservations. Do you think anyone of them is happy about this? I would hope not. I’m glad I’m not one of them, but I truly feel bad for anyone who is in that predicament.

Fans Left Holding The Bag- Fans should have no trouble getting their money refunded for the game tickets. However is the NHL also offering to compensate fans for non-refundable airfare or hotel reservations? Not Likely. Many fans have been grossly inconvenienced. This is not only a black eye to the NHL, but in particular a black eye to the stewardship of Commissioner Gary Bettman. Say what you will about what Bettman has done for the game in the last twenty years. I will grant you he has done good things as Commissioner, however the bad marks with Bettman’s reign as Commissioner are only getting larger and more cumbersome with each passing day of this lockout (which at the time of this writing was on it’s 52nd day.) Even if the lockout were to be settled tomorrow, there is now irreversible damage done to the 2012-13 season which will become as much about damage control as it will be about competing for the Stanley Cup for 30 teams. The league would likely go to a revised schedule and try to get in 66 to maybe with any luck 72 games. That’s best case scenario at this point. Even if that were to be the case, Bettman’s credibility as NHL Commissioner is long gone at this point and I feel he has a duty to resign his office effective immediately.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE

Bettman Just Simply Needs To Go- I will admit that I am not a fan of Bettman and never really have been (and never will be one either). I feel this lockout not only could have been avoided but should have been avoided. Both Bettman, the NHLPA and the team owners all knew the September 15th, 2012 deadline would arrive and be at their doorstep at some point. They did not forget this fact, they knew this date upon the day the settled the last lockout which cancelled the 2004-05 season. Bettman should have been removed from the Commissioners office or at least have been man enough to resign from the office at that point. Their are several former players and coaches who have been long retired who have great knowledge and wisdom of the game. A number of them would make ideal Commissioners of given the opportunity. This is not to say Bettman is the only responsible person here, Donald Fehr deserves his share of the blame and the players will need to realize at some point that if they are missing enough paychecks, Fehr may not the man that has their backs after all. Many players have had to go to the KHL, Europe, ECHL or AHL to play this year and the pay differential between those leagues and the NHL is night and day. The fact that many players have had to travel abroad just to play professional hockey this year just as they did in 2004-05 also does not bode well for Commissioner Bettman.

Bettman has been anything but a goodwill ambassador for the NHL or the game of hockey. Most fans do not like him, and a good number of fans and people I know personally just don’t respect him. It all has to do with not only this lockout, but the other three that have happened since he became the Commissioner. Fans today are frustrated that the league would even have the audacity to lockout again eight years after an entire season got wiped out. The fact that this lockout was preventable yet nothing was done to prevent it just shows the arrogance of at least eight or more owners and Bettman who just simply follows in lock step with them. The fact that this latest lockout even happened in the first place just goes to show that Bettman spent the last seven years whistling past the graveyard on this issue. Look at where it got him and the league. This is not only unacceptable to the players and the fans, but to an large extent at best is a dereliction of duty by Commissioner Bettman. The Commissioner after the last lockout had a duty to make darned sure that preventive measures should have been installed so agreements within the CBA would allow for at least a one year firewall so negotiations towards a new agreement would already be in place before any CBA expiration date. Bettman in effect had seven years to do this and did not take care of this, thus neglecting future seasons and the future of the NHL as a whole.

Bettman really has no good excuse here. Certainly, he is trying his best to appease the owners. What has happened is that he has allowed the owners to turn him into their puppet (much like the Major League Baseball owners have turned Bud Selig into their puppet). When this happens, the Commissioner not only becomes ineffective, he also in many ways becomes irrelevant. In the NFL, Commissioners such as Roger Goodell have at least had an impact to where it is understood by both players and owners that he’s the one in charge. The Owners in the NFL know that Commissioner Goodell is the boss and what he says goes. Goodell is tough, however he is also fair and feels the fans are the most important asset to the game. Goodell himself refers to NFL Season Ticket holders as “The Share Owners” of the league. Goodell sees and values the fans input, and even revised the NFL’s home blackout rule this season so the fans and owners can work together to get home games on television in the home team’s local markets. Goodell takes the fans very seriously and not for granted. The same cannot be said for David Stearn in the NBA, Bud Selig with Major League Baseball, or Commissioner Bettman in the NHL. Out of all of these Commissioners, Bettman to me has done a worse job than Selig. Sure, Selig has dealt with steroid scandals within baseball but at least the league has not stopped playing. The NHL cannot say the same thing and is the only major league sporting league in North America to have lost an entire season due to a labor dispute…under Bettman’s watch!

Bettman Not Fan Friendly- There is a reason Bettman is booed at almost every Stanley Cup presentation or public appearance. He does not have or command the respect of the majority of hockey fans, and likely never will. For all the good he may have done for the NHL, he has done just as much to put a dent in the NHL’s shield which is completely unacceptable. With all do respect to the city of Phoenix, Arizona (where I lived for five years in the early and mid 1990′s, before the Coyotes arrived there from Winnipeg), the Coyotes are bleeding more money than most NHL franchises which are still fielding teams. This is not to say Phoenix does not have hockey fans because they do and good ones at that. I attended games in Phoenix when the IHL (now ECHL) Roadrunners were playing there at the old Veterans Memorial Arena. The games usually only drew around 1,000 in attendance. However those 1,000 fans were as loud and fun loving as any hockey fans and they do appreciate the sport.

Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE

The Phoenix Experiment- It takes more than 1,000 fans in a community to support a professional hockey franchise at any level. The Roadrunners folded once the Coyotes arrived in Phoenix. The attendance for the Coyotes games is probably enough to support the team, however the expense of running the franchise playing in a reasonably nice facility is something that the suburb of Glendale is finding out is not an easy under taking. The cost of running the team and the Jobing.com arena are seemingly more than the community can handle, especially when you consider the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals also play their games in a facility next door. The Coyotes are losing money by the millions and the local politicians there are doing nothing to help the process. Though the Phoenix area has great fans, it seems almost certain the Coyotes may have to soon cut bait just to survive as a franchise and look to Seattle, Portland, or possibly even Hamilton, Ontario as relocation sites. This is not a blight on the fans in Phoenix, this is just economics working against their team. This is also the blight of a weak Commissioner who allows for a franchise to fall into this much financial difficulty. The Coyotes are not the only team with financial problems, and this is not to pick on them or even single them out, however they are the most glaring example of one.

It’s Simply Time for Gary Bettman to Resign- Hockey is a game that will always have it’s following. Once this lockout is settled, the fans will come back. Many fringe fans of the sport however maybe lost and this time it will be either for good or at least for several years. The NHL cannot recoup the cost of lost revenue from this season but oddly does not seem to be too concerned about that thanks to the out of control egos of at least eight or more owners, Donald Fehr and Commissioner Bettman. This has led to what is so far 327 games wiped out with more almost certain to follow and soon. No matter what the Owners or the NHLPA says about this, there is nothing that justifies the fact they are not playing now. This is again unacceptable to the fans, the season ticket holders and to all who value what the NHL has to offer. Even if this lockout gets settled soon, their are no guarantees that this does not happen again in five years or however long the next CBA will cover. One thing is certain, the league can no longer operate effectively under the current stewardship of Commissioner Bettman. To even try to do so would both be foolish and irresponsible. Gary Bettman owes the fans of the NHL his resignation as Commissioner. Quite frankly now would be a good time for him to step down too. If this happens, it will allow for a faster resolution since the majority of owners will force the other eight to get a deal done with the NHLPA. Bettman at this point adds nothing to the negotiations and cannot do anymore good for the NHL. If anything, Commissioner Bettman is just in the way. It’s really that simple.

 

Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

As a hockey fan, I give Commissioner Bettman a vote of “No Confidence”. This not only deals with the state of the NHL today, but also the future of the game as well. I truly feel that Bettman on the good side of his stewardship long ago served his purpose in expanding the game and making it more accessible. I will always give him credit for that. However, the continued labor problems that exist off of the ice have hit a critical mass. Bettman at this point is a weak commissioner who is easily manipulated by at least eight of the owners if not more. It’s not a question of will another lockout happen in the future, it’s just a matter of when. When that happens, part or all of that season will fall into jeopardy just as this one has. I’m not ready to accept this season is lost, but it certainly will be tainted at best providing if it even happens at all.  This may not matter to Commissioner Bettman, however I can guarantee this matters to the vast majority of hockey fans everywhere from Boston, to Miami, to Anaheim, to Vancouver, BC.

Bettman has been NHL Commissioner since 1993 and he has clearly overstayed his welcome. He will never have the respect of fans anywhere, and most fans have no use for him anyway. What if the players were to demand his resignation as a condition for returning? I’m willing to bet that most owners will be more than happy to push Bettman out the door and fast. Don’t worry about Bettman, he’s a multi-millionaire anyways and he will be fine. He can quit today and never have to worry about money in his lifetime, and would soon find that he’s not missing the stress of being the league’s Commissioner anyway. Fans wont miss the stress of having him as the commissioner either. Simply put, the faster Bettman goes away the better off all parties including Bettman will be. I would not want to be Bettman right now. To be clear,  I wish him no ill will whatsoever, he is a human being. I just feel his time to leave the NHL Commissioner’s seat has come and if he stays the only end result will be more damage to a league which will be very hard pressed to do damage control once this lockout finally ends whenever that might be. The NHL would be far better off without him at this point, period.

Bettman has nothing more to prove, and the current situation simply will not get any better with him in charge. If anything, it will only get worse. Bettman can only go down from here. My father told me a long time ago that when you get into either an untenable situation or in a spot to where the only place you can go is down, that’s when it’s simply time to go. Don’t get mad, just understand the situation for what it truly is and plan to exit as gracefully and quietly as you can. With Gary Bettman, things have reached this point and did so a while ago. All Bettman can do from here is make things worse, perhaps a lot worse. Who benefits from that? Certainly not the players, the fans, and not even the owners themselves. It’s better to leave now when the situation is not going to get any better with his continued involvement. Bettman needs check his ego at his own front door and look in the mirror long and hard.

Commissioner Bettman, when I wrote an open letter to you in this column some seven weeks ago I explained what you needed to do if you wanted to truly be the hero here. You’ve done none of those things which in my mind means that if you are not part of the solution, then you are only part of a bigger problem. It’s no disgrace to admit when it’s time to go. It’s only a disgrace if you overstay your welcome or purpose. For you to stay on as Commissioner at this point is only is to poor gasoline on a forest fire at this point.

Commissioner Bettman, with all due respect Please Resign as NHL Commissioner effective Immediately. At this point you are only doing more harm than good. We want our league back. We just don’t want you back. It’s nothing personal. It’s business.

…Just My Two Cents…

 

The King Shark

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