Monday, February 09, 2004

On Bettman

Gary Bettman spent the second intermission of yesterday's All Star Game (a disappointing, to me anyway, 6-4 win by the East) discussing the CBA and everything surrounding it. He did his usual spouting off on a whole list of numbers and affirming his unwavering faith in their accuracy. That is my biggest problem with Bettman, he just throws around numbers without actually giving a viable solution. The NHLPA's Bob Goodenow spews crap too, but, to me, his crap isn't so bad as Bettman's, who is on what he must think is a noble quest to save the poor owners and the incompetent small-market team from the evil, greedy NHL player and big-market team. Bettman's right, the League is losing a lot of money but that is because of his mistakes and those of the owners. If, in the past, all the owners had agreed not to pay players as much as they have, salaries would never have gotten so inflated. Competition for the players' services drove the prices up until no one would pay any more. Simple law of supply and demand, there was a small supply and a large demand. It is management's fault, the players aren't responsible for it. For example, look at Karmanos' offer to Sergei Fedorov in 1998. At six years, $38 million with enormous bonuses ($12 million by the Conference Finals) it is one of the contracts primarily responsible for the league's price inflation. It was the result of a holdout but Sergei never would have gotten that money had Karmanos not offered it to him (out of spite for Mike Illitch, by the way). Alexei Yashin's eight year, $80 million deal with the Islanders is another example. Same with Billy Guerin and Bobby Holik's five year, $40 million contracts. Yashin's was the result of a hold-out but Holik and Guerin's were the results of free agency talks and were proposed by the teams. There are those who believe that the players' agents have duped owners and GM's into those types of contracts. There is something to that but while GM's may be ex-players and not trained in business, owners generally are and should know better. Now they want to go back on their word and it is to be expected that the players would be upset. It's like a parent allowing their kid to do something for years and then suddenly starting to crack down on it. The kid is going to be mad and isn't going to give up what he's been doing without a fight. Same thing with the NHL's players today. The reason so many small market teams are struggling is because many of them never should have existed in the first place. It is because of NHL expansion that so many teams are having trouble. The NHL is far too big today. It should be contracted and maybe down the road expanded again when there is legitimately enough interest generated to warrant an NHL team in those cities. Bettman jumped the gun, in my opinion. Hockey isn't ready to be so big and it may never be. His strategy of going into a city with a new franchise and trying to generate an interest out of nothing while burning away money and muddying the talent pool hasn't worked enough to make it all worth it. Generate an interest first and then move in. Make a city want an NHL team. The NFL wouldn't have been able to run as many teams as it does today 30 years ago and I think the NHL is in the same position. I don't just dislike Bettman out of spite. I really think he is wrong and has ruined NHL hockey. He has no idea what he's talking about and is too interested in equality. He's trying to introduce a system that has no historical basis in hockey and he expects there to be no problem. The NHL is a great-team driven league. There is no historical precedent for, and there no room for, universal parity in the NHL. Maybe if the talent pool was deep enough but it isn't right now and everything is too spread out. If he wants his parity, he has to be willing to contract the league and push the mediocre players out of the League, which will make more teams more talented. He'll never do that, though, and instead will kill the NHL we've known. What he's done is dumbed down the game to an enormous degree. There simply is not enough talent to go around and too many teams have to resort to the trap the clutch-and-grab strategies that come with it. He focuses too much on teams like this when he should be working to preserve the top teams in the league. They are the reasons people watch hockey. All his false parity has done is make hockey less popular and less watched. Way to go, Gary.


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