Saturday 8 December 2012

If disgraceful NHL lockout does not end Bettman and Fehr have to go

Will we see any National Hockey League games this year? Do you miss watching the Montreal Canadiens?

If a deal is  not made really soon, the 2012-2013 schedule will be wiped off the map. Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players Association boss Donald Fehr, putting their respective egos ahead of the game, will have effectively done significant and perhaps irreparable damage to the game. The only people who should be smiling are resident of Quebec City for they will get their long awaited team sooner than expected. Some NHL squads will not survive this mess. Sponsors will not return, nor will season ticket holders. Bettman, if he keeps his  job, will be so desperate he will probably have to put a team back in Atlanta.

I have spoken to many die hard Habs fans, corporate folks with private boxes and season tickets. Surprisingly they just do not care about the lockout anymore. Now that is a pretty bad sign! "I am doing other things with my time," one business-type told me.

"At this point I really do not want them to come back," said another season ticket holder. "It will be watered down product. Players will be getting injured because most are out of shape. Who wants to pay for that? Let them come back fresh next year."

My neighbour,  a student at Concordia's John Molson School for Business and one of those young men whose every breath is associated with the Habs, told me the lockout has been good for his studies. "Sure I miss watching the games," he said. "But I don't have that distraction any more when I have to study for exams."

I agree with him. With my heavy workload, I am out of the house at meetings a few nights a week. When I am home, it usually by the computer for several hours. If a Habs game on, I usually park myself in front of the TV with my laptop. But the work comes along a lot slower as I watch the game. So I guess the lockout has been good to me as well.

Personally, I may only go to a couple of games each year. Nonetheless, I must confess that I really do miss watching NHL hockey. I love listening to the talk shows after a Habs win or loss; following the news of a big trade; seeing the game highlights on the nightly sportscast; logging on to  Yes, I miss the Habs and would happily accept an abbreviated 50 to 55 game season.

So how does that happen? First of all, the owners need to send Bettman into a corner and let him stay there for a while. How this man commands a salary of   $7.2 million a year is beyond me.   He needs to be removed from all negotiations immediately and if the season is cancelled,  he should be fired. Yes, he has about three years left on his contract  so make him director of legal affairs. Put a real hockey man in charge of the game. A Ken Dryden type. Bettman is universally despised by players, fans and I bet by most owners.

Bettman could have avoided this whole mess if he just sat down with the owners handing out crazy contracts - Craig Leipold for example. Last summer the Minnesota Wild owner signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to insane longterm $98 million contracts. It was contrary to everything Bettman was trying to change in the collective agreement. 

I commend Habs owner Geoff Molson and others for holding their nose while Bettman ruins their businesses.

Now we get to Fehr, a hired gun who has absolutely no interest in the game of hockey or its future. Clearly, this whole thing is about him getting the upper hand.  If the season is cancelled, he has to go as well. The players could step in at this point and hammer out a deal without him. The league wants a 10 year deal and the players eight -so settle at nine. As for the NHL's insistence that five year contracts be the limit, the players should accept that too. However, they would be absolutely correct to say that what has been signed is signed.

Where Fehr has shown a total lack of leadership is not coming down on the many players who headed to Europe. If the NHLPA wanted to end this, perhaps a novel idea would have been to setup a rival league. Our Montreal squad could play out of the smaller Verdun Auditorium or maybe even the Quebec Coliseum.

As TSN's Pierre Lebrun rightly said the other day, the NHL should be embarrassed by this whole mess. It is a disgrace and both sides are to blame.

Watch this clip though and tell me you would not love to see an opening day of hockey on January 1 with these type of introductions:

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