Gary Bettman is set to get away with it again. After 113 days of NHL Lockout, the league and the NHLPA finally reached a tentative deal on a new collective bargaining agreement. The NHL is expected to start sometime in late January with a 48 or 50 game season depending on the final agreed to start date.
The ecstasy amongst players, coaches, managers and fans has been very apparent in various interviews and on twitter. In fact, the internet was inundated with celebration and excitement at the prospect of NHL ice hockey being played in 2013. The celebration coming out of the NHL Lockout 2012 is that the whole season has not been lost. However, not a lot has been said about Gary Bettman.
Regardless of whether the league or the NHLPA take the blame, or whether it is Gary Bettman or Don Fehr exit the NHL Lockout 2012 as the ultimate villain. The NHL as a whole has some serious work to re-earn the respect and loyalty of their fan base. The first 30+ games of this season have been lost over peanuts. Those games were lost over maximum player contract length, buyout compliance and the length of the new CBA itself. The only reflection that can be seriously taken from the 113 days of NHL Lockout 2012 is that this labor dispute of posturing rather than one of serious negotiation.
Last time the NHL had a new brand and some exciting young talent to show off to its fans and it worked with the league gaining in popularity every single single between 2005-06 and 2011-12. They don’t have anything new to excite the fans with on this occasion.
One obvious olive branch to the fan base is to announce an exit strategy for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Bettman will have presided over 20 years of the league as of February 1. During that time the league has gone through plenty of strife, and gradually the only consistent factor has been Gary Bettman.
Bettman was brought in to be the owner’s bulldog in 1993. His first task was to increase the professionalism and business success of the league, to try and move it closer to North America’s other big sports league. His second task was to introduce salary restrictions in the form of a salary cap.
In 1994-95, the NHL was locked out for 104 days and the season was reduced to 48 games. Gary Bettman didn’t become the man to introduce the salary cap during that season, but he and the owners did win some serious concessions.
Just 10 years later, in 2004-05, the NHL was in another lockout and this time Bettman made it very clear that he meant serious business on a hard salary cap. He announced the first ever loss of an entire season of a North American sports league in January 2005. Gary Bettman and the owners would eventually get their way winning a hard salary cap.
However, just seven years later a third lockout was on the books and came to fruition. This time there were no serious clear aims, no falling profits or financial problems to back up the hard-line that Gary Bettman plays so well.
This new CBA is 10 years in length. Bettman looks set to take the reputation fall once again for the owners and will be 68 years old by the time the next set of negotiations take place. It would make sense for the league to plan a replacement re-build some bridges and show the fans that they are truly committed to putting a lockout era behind them.
Still, it doesn’t seem especially likely. Bettman has been the owners’ man and his ability to keep the entire group together has been impressive. He has built a reputation as a fierce negotiator and stubborn ‘don’t bend don’t break’ attitude.
It looks like Gary Bettman will be allowed to get away with yet another NHL Lockout.