Saturday, August 11, 2012

Gary Bettman is a Diabolical Madman Who Must be Stopped

Part one of a series that will continue as long as this man is allowed to continue to wreak his own brand of havoc upon hockey fans and humanity at large.

Anyone who calls themselves a fan of hockey no doubt had some pretty strong reactions to the news that Gary Bettman announced yesterday that if a new CBA isn't reached by September 15th, the owners will engage a lockout against the players, ending the 2012-2013 before it starts. If this were to happen, it would be the second lockout the NHL owners have forced upon players and fans in less than 10 years, the third time under the eyes of Gary Bettman, and the fourth the league has suffered since 1992. 

I'm going to say part of that again because it bears emphasizing: If there is a lockout this upcoming season, it would be the third time that Gary Bettman, a man hired to run the NHL and end labor disputes, has allowed or caused a lockout to happen. 

There is a question that is no doubt on the mind of a lot of hockey fans, bloggers and pundits out there: Is Gary Bettman out of his fucking mind?
Short Answer: Yes. Long Answer: Fuck yes.
(Bruce Bennet - Getty Images)
To put it another way: why would Gary Bettman threaten a lockout will still over a month until the deadline? I've come up with a number of possible reasons why he decided to issue this statement. I'm going to rate them on the Patented Third Round Draft Pick Screwball Scale. "What's the Patented Third Round Draft Pick Screwball Scale?". Glad you asked! the 3RDP Patented Screwball Scale rates the decisions made by individuals against the known behavior of other characters.

For example, a Screwball rating of 1 is equal to that of Nicklas Lidstrom, who is so god damned sane and reasonable it almost drives you to the point of insanity. A rating of 5 on the Screwball Scale is roughly the equivalent of the bastard love child of the Coco Puffs Bird and the Trix Rabbit.

Paint me like one of your French girls.
I just want to point out that I take Bettman's threat of a lockout seriously, if for no other reason than he's done it twice before in the NHL. But also because it has to be a serious threat - even if he had never done it before, he can only make the threat if he honestly intends on following through. If he doesn't, then on September 16th the NHLPA gets whatever it wants. 

After the break, we'll discuss why I think he may have made the announcement and how crazy he is if that is the reason.

Reason #1: The NHL and the Players Association are so far apart that he believes no agreement can be made

It's not entirely unreasonable for this to be the reason for Bettman's statement. We do have to keep in mind who his negotiation adversary is: Donald Fehr. For those who don't know, Donald Fehr was previously in charge of the Major League Baseball Players Association. During the 1994-1995 season, he convinced MLB and the players association to go into the season without a contract to continue negotiations. Come September, Fehr wasn't happy with how negotiations were going, so the players went on strike. Bud Selig cancelled the remainder of the season and the World Series. Eric Macramalla at "Offside: A Sport Law Blog" wrote a great post detailing all of this

Besides pissing off a lot of baseball fans, this meant a loss of "$580 million in ownership revenue and $230 million in players salaries." That means approximately $810 million dollars in 1995. In today's dollars that's $1,147,318,444 dollars and 97 cents. (Yes, for some reason the inflation calculator I used gave me it in dollars and cents.) And that doesn't account for how much salaries and league revenues have grown in the past 20 years. 

The NHLPA announced it would be sending it's 1st counter-offer on Tuesday, August 14th which is 1 month and 1 day before the expiration date of the CBA. Donald Fehr told the Sporting News "...revenue sharing continues to be a hot topic and that there's a 'meaningful gulf' separating the league and the union on that issue." We're talking about millions and billions of dollars at stake with just over a month until the contract expires and a "meaningful gulf" existing on what is arguably the key issue. Could Bettman think it's already a foregone conclusion that a lockout or strike could occur? Sure.

But to make that public threat at this point is premature. Hockey fans know what could happen if the league and players can't agree, and throwing it in their face and the face of the players who are all hoping and praying that there will be a season only seeks to inflame passions and ignite angers.

For a man who is already reviled by hockey fans, that's not really a smart move.

3 Screwballs

Reason #2: Gary Bettman actually believes the NHL's offer is fair and reason and is in disbelief that the PA didn't agree to it.

Probably the most interesting thing about this whole thing to me is that I rarely see people so unanimously agreed on any one topic. That's not to say that people don't think the players can and should compromise on things without completely handicapping themselves. I believe they can, and they should. So do a lot of people.

But the converse of that is the fans seem to be in complete agreement that the first offer by the league was total horseshit. Some people thought it was just an extreme first volley to set a boundary of the negotiations and others thought it was an honest offer. People who thought the former believed it to be a schrewd and expected negotiation tactic, people who thought the latter took it as a slap in the face to the players and fans. Either way, it was agreed that it would be ridiculous for the PA to accept it because regardless of the reason why, the offer was bad.

If that was an honest offer from the league and the owners, and Bettman believes it to be a fair and equitable offer, then this man deserves to be institutionalized.

5 Screwballs

Reason #3: This is the panicked saber rattling and posturing of a man who knows he has a weak bargaining position.

As had been previously reported, the NHLPA requested that the NHL hand over financial documents regarding the financial standings of the league and its teams. The NHL complied and handed over 76,000 pages worth of documents. It bears mentioning that this isn't just reading 76,000 pages of text, which is a daunting task in and of its self. This is 76,000 pages of legal and financial jargon. That takes time and a swath of experts to decode and translate. 

It's understandable that the PA would want to check out the finances of organizations who are demanding more money from the players. It's hard to believe that the teams and the league are struggling financially when players are being signed to $98 million or $110 million contracts. I suppose you could make the argument that the reason players need to loosen their grip on their revenues shares is because players are making that kind of money. That those contracts are what is putting the strain on teams to cause them to demand a bigger portion of league revenues. That's not entirely an unfair claim to make, but neither is the claim that you could simply not offer players that kind of money.

As I previously mentioned, the players could stand to give a bit but this is not the situation the league was in back in 2004-2005. Most teams are profitable, the league as a whole is profitable, and the salary cap has helped to keep player salaries in check and from one or two teams from consolidating too much star power. I know it, the players know it, the owners know it and Gary Bettman has to know it. And if that's the case, then his threat is simply him trying to gain some high ground before he has his legs taken out from under him.

2 Screwballs:

Ultimately, this is all speculation and my guess it that we're going to find out the truth of the matter once the PA makes its counter-offer. I would imagine not only will their counter-offer reflect their findings in their investigation, but should their findings be damning of the league and the owners, we're going to get some very specific details. I wouldn't be surprised if specific teams or people are named should the investigation uncover any kind of financial shenanigans or misrepresentation of the financial realities of teams and the league. Conversely, should the claims of the league be validated I would expect a fairly reasonable counter offer with some honest concessions made by the players. 

Because I do honestly believe that the players don't want to take the season away from the fans. Are both sides trying to maximize their own monetary gain? Sure they are and there isn't anything inherently wrong with that, so long as they don't risk the their own livelihood and the integrity and longevity of the game in the process. 

Are there some players who make decisions almost entirely based on their own personal financial gain? Sure, but they're few and far between. 

Please excuse this non-related, non sequitur photo
(Hannah Foslein - Getty Images)
In the end, to some degree, I could care less who is right and who is wrong and what the new CBA brings. I just want whatever deal allows there to keep being hockey, and I will be eternally angry at whoever will be responsible for taking it from me. Gary, Donald. Fucking get it done.

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