You cannot convince me there’s universal support among NHL owners for this lockout. No chance. I refuse to believe they’re all standing in line behind Gary Bettman and Boston’s Jeremy Jacobs, whom we ruefully have to claim as one of our natives, and truly support this charade that’s ruining a sport.
There’s plenty of I-don’t-care-about-the-Sabres going on around here. So what chance does hockey have in places like Phoenix? Or Dallas? Or stripped-down Nashville? And so much for the momentum built in Los Angeles or Florida.
Keep in mind what these owners did. They threw out huge contracts over the summer and then rushed to get dozens of guys signed right before the Sept. 15 lockout. Minnesota’s Craig Leipold has been at the forefront of Bettman’s negotiating team and he’s one of the biggest offenders.
Pretty obvious now he had no intentions of paying $98 million each to Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, isn’t it? Throw ‘em the big money on paper and let the rollback figure of the CBA take care of the real dollars. Great strategy.
Philadelphia chairman Ed Snider was one of the lead figures in the last lockout. He’s been oddly on the outside this time, so my antenna went up over the weekend when a Philadelphia Daily News report said Snider was getting tired of the league’s lockout strategy. His wallet is clearly hurting.
Snider, now 79, has to feel he’s running low on time to win the Stanley Cup he’s been chasing since the Flyers won their second one at the Aud in 1975. And don’t forget he’s also chairman of Comcast Spectacor, which has plenty of regional NHL TV deals — as well as the biggie with the NBC Sports Network.
Snider also has a team that plays in front of a full building every night too.
Now, of course, Snider immediately issued a statement saying the report was erroneous. Bettman went one step further and called it a “fabrication” when he gave a rare interview Sunday to the Winnipeg Free Press. (Memo to Gary: The media won’t cut you any slack when you drop that word. Major no-no).
You need to have 75 percent of governors to oppose Bettman’s recommendations during CBA talks and Bettman certainly has the seven he needs to keep control (remember, the league owns Phoenix). And no one can speak out for fear of fines.
Still, Ottawa’s Eugene Melnyk did a couple weeks ago when he said, “We should be playing hockey by now.” Amen. Bettman surely came down on Melnyk hard but it’s sad no one else has said anything.
Terry Pegula, for one, stammered through an answer when asked about the lockout for the only time publicly during an October news conference to announce the Webster Block construction. The New York Times later reported Pegula was warned by the league to clam up.
You understood why the lockout happened that killed the 2004-05 season. The system was completely broken. It was better for many teams — including the Sabres — to shut down than to play and continue to piling up the losses.
Think about what came out of that lost season: A salary cap, which allows markets like Buffalo to compete. A shift in the rules that allowed for a freer, more entertaining product on the ice. And lower ticket prices too.
What are fans going to get now? When are some of these owners going to speak up and say this is ridiculous?
This was a hurting business eight years ago. It was a $3.3 billion business going great guns this time. Good luck getting back to that point any time soon.