Saturday, February 12, 2005

FIRE BETTMAN, FIRE GOODENOW

Welcome to the NHL Saturday hockey lockout blog, which has been going on since the lockout began, and, unfortunately, will probably continue for another full year yet.

Well, read a story in Sportsnet that Bettman has issued a memo to owners releasing management from their code of silence and allowing them to be able to contact players and sway opinions. The move is widely seen as a last-ditch attempt to get enough people on Goodenow's case that Goodenow goes back to the table and caves in to a salary cap. You know, I've kept on hearing these stories about player dissention and about players caving in since day one of this dispute. I keep on hearing Bill Watters going on his pro-owner rampage since day one on 640 Toronto, blasting the players and telling them they ought to cave in for their own good and that they won't ever get a better deal than this. Well, I can tell you right now, the players ain't going to rise up and fire Goodenow. The league is claiming players are expressing frustration and unhappiness about the way the negotiations are going but I'm convinced those reports are all coming from the league, and it's the usual propoganda and BS that we're accustomed to. It's just another pressure tactic to try and get the union to cave, and put pressure on Goodenow and try and get him to bend, and it won't work. They've gone this route from day one and it hasn't worked once.

The salary cap is going to come in over Goodenow's dead body. If the players are going to cave, it will come during the "replacement players" scenario, not in any negotiation. I suspect many players will look at this latest pronouncement as yet another sign that Bettman can't be trusted. Today is supposed to be the drop dead date, but now Bettman is saying they've got more time? I'm sure the players are going to cave in. Not!

The other thing I read at Hockey Rodent was that the NHL supposedly does not have the power to impose a hard cap on the players by declaring an impasse and going to the National Labor Relations Board. A hard cap is something they would have to negotiate with the players, so I read. But what they can do is impose a new collective bargaining agreement- which is a different kettle of fish. In that case, what we're hearing about how the NHL will be able to impose its cap at will would seem to be a lot of nonsense. In which case Goodenow and the gang will have every reason to stay out and force the NHL to come back to the table.

All I will say is that I'm stunned that Bettman and Goodenow haven't been at the table at all. I'm stunned at the damage being done to the sport of hockey. This is going to set the sport back decades, yet neither side is serious about saving the season. So much damage has been done already and a shortened season would be a farce, but it would still be better than nothing. That's why you are hearing people screaming for Bettman's head and Goodenow's head. People are hoping these two are fired, and I'm one of them.

I know that there's a lot of sentiment in Canada favoring the owners over the players. They've fallen for this BS line of bull from the NHL that the lockout will save the Canadian teams and that all the league's problems will be solved, and these fans think that the ticket prices will be lowered when they all come back. What nonsense. I take a more cynical view: I favor neither side in this dispute: what I care about instead is the entire sport of hockey. And salary cap or no, cancelling the season will do this sport incredible damage. Interest in the game is going to plummet in the United States and it's even beginning to go in Canada. They've taken polls suggesting 40% of hockey fans claim they don't miss hockey. Ken Dryden was quoted as saying that a lot of Canadians are finding out that hockey was more of a "habit" than a "passion" to them. Personally, I think the NHL will have big problems with both groups of people. The people who are really passionate about hockey are probably the angriest of them all and will include many people who will swear off going to games, just to teach the league a lesson.

But there are lots of people who follow this sport just because the CBC happens to run games on TV, or because it's the only major pro sports team in town, or the Canadian thing to do, or the one thing that differentiates our pathetic country from the United States. And we're learning some hard truths about them. They just want entertainment and couldn't care less about the game.

On the street I hear more people interested in the soap opera that is the Toronto Raptors than in the National Hockey League right now. Really, the NHL seems to be the preferred sport for the rich white guys in Toronto who have money. The young, hip and ethnic prefer the Raptors. You talk to people under 30 and more of them are probably lunatic about the Raptors and the NBA. Seriously. Go to Air Canada Centre and compare the Leafs crowds to Raptor crowds, and you will get my drift. And just tune into sports broadcasts in this country and compare the boring white guys who cover hockey to the hip young broadcasters like Eric Smith and Elliotte Friedman who are all basketball geeks. The NBA is taking the world over, folks, and if the Raptor organization was any good they'd own the town. Seriously. The fans are there, it's just the Raptors who are shooting themselves in the foot.

Anyway, this promises to be a big week. The league's drop-dead press conference, featuring Gary Bettman dropping dead, is coming this week sometime. All I want is for this agony over with. I want closure. I'm spent. Tonight, it's the usual No-Hockey Night in Canada. There's a lacrosse game going between Calgary and Toronto and also a NASCAR race, the Bud Shootout. So I'll tune in to that. Better than nothing.

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