Commish Gary Bettman was on the Mike and the Mad Dog Show on WFAN New York today and he stated that he was as stunned as anyone by all the rumors and falsehoods being spewed by the media going into Saturday's meeting in New York. He called the reports a "pack of lies" and suspected that the league was being "set up" by someone trying to undermine the league. He mentioned the stories did not originate with his office and that in fact none of these media people even tried to contact him or Bill Daly.
I invite you to go to the interview with Mike Francesa on the WFAN page link that I gave you and tune in to the February 21st interview and hear it for yourself. Gary Bettman is all but blaming the union here for a big set-up designed to pressure the owners into making a better offer. And what happened at the meeting was that Bettman and Goodenow weren't even there, and the league said they were expecting the players to make an offer and they never made an offer. So the whole meeting was about, well, nothing. 6 and a half hours of wasted time.
The other thing Bettman said was that it was the union who requested the presense of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, not ownership, so the theory is that the union was using Gretzky and Lemieux to try and negotiate a better deal from the owners, and that the union was behind a lot of the spin going around that day. But then again there was also a lot of spin going on suggesting that the union was falling apart and that union members were undermining Bob Goodenow and negotiating behind his back, so maybe the owners actually believed that line of bull and thought the players were all about to cave. I dunno, but this whole thing made Gretzky and Lemieux look really bad. They must be really wondering why the heck they didn't choose some other sport to play. What a mess!
Of the media reports, Bettman said he was having dinner on Friday with Gretzky and Lemieux to apprise them of what was happening, to get them up to speed, and it was after that when he heard all these reports of people saying a deal was struck. He even had his NHL PR people call up the AP and CP to issue denials but the media simply ignored them and continued to report rumors of a deal the following day.
I will say this, though, it seemed as if the media were backtracking a little on Saturday and started to realize the deal was not etched in stone. But on Friday night they practically said a deal was done, and they all ended up with egg on their faces.
I think at the end of the day this was a classic case of the hockey media jumping the gun without any hard facts to back up their stories, and reporting rumors instead of hard news. And they got caught. Listen, I've seen this business up close. This business reports rumors all the time. Just tune into the FAN 590, the hosts talk up rumors all the time and every rumor is reported as the Gospel. I think this was just a case of everyone hoping the National Hockey League was coming back, and everyone hoping they had a big story, and when they found out Gretzky and Lemieux were somehow involved they thought, this is it. And they were all wrong in their assumptions.
In any event the Canadian sports media did the hockey fans a dis-service on Friday night. Thanks to them, the fans got their hopes up, only to be whacked over the head with a hammer again. I have some advice to the sports media types: get lost, eh? Go report something else, there are other sports. Hey, baseball season is coming soon. Hey, NASCAR season's already here. Did you know that viewership for the Daytona 500 yesterday peaked in Canada at over 600,000? Yes, there are lots of auto racing fans in Canada. Maybe it's time for you sports guys to cover THAT sport.