NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announces the end of the latest hockey lockout
Photo: Getty Images
The NHL is getting good at lockouts. When you’ve voluntarily knee-capped your own sport three times in a decade, all under the same commissioner (Helloooo, Gary Bettman), then you know how to pull out of the death dive at the last minute.
The season finally starts this weekend but damage control has already begun. Unconvincing apologies to the fans, who everybody keeps stressing they care so much about, have been delivered and reported, straight-faced, by the American and Canadian media. Even Bettman had the hide to apologise.
Meanwhile, fans are offered a few shiny trinkets. NHL GameCenter, where games can be seen live on TV, has been discounted for what’s left of the season. In hockey towns like Detroit, Vancouver, Toronto and Minnesota, fans are being let in free-of-charge to watch practice games and training.
Gosh. Thanks. You’re all heart, NHL. We’re supposed to just shrug, count our losses and move on, huh? Head into a shortened 48-games-per-team season to decide the Stanley Cup, starting this weekend, like the unnecessary and extended lockout was some kind of murky bad dream. Again.
As a dedicated hockey fan, I feel torn. Like everybody else, I can’t help but be ecstatic that my team, the Detroit Red Wings, will finally be back in action. I’ve desperately missed watching Pavel Datsyuk’s genius, new captain Henrik Zetterberg’s two-way skill, how the youngsters are coming along, and how the team’s defence will operate without their Hall of Famer retired former captain Nicklas Lidstrom. I miss the passion of the Wings army.
But I’m mad. I’m angry that the owners were so willing to lock out the players, stopping the season when it should have started in October last year. That this was the owners’ Plan A, with no Plan B. As far as I can tell, there was not the hint of an intention by Bettman and his henchmen to try and seriously negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement without going to lockout war.
Yes, you can argue that it’s hard to feel financially sorry for any professional athlete, especially in America where sporting pay cheques are astonishing. The players’ association was mostly representing millionaires and multi-millionaires, so basically this was a fight of millionaires v billionaires, with the only real losers being the fans and all the side businesses that depend on NHL stadiums being open for business.
But I’m angry that the players made concession after concession and yet the lockout dragged on. I’m dismayed and disappointed that the shake-out now is that Bettman is being lauded in some circles for his courage and willingness not to flinch under criticism, to deliver the sport (read: rich private owners) pretty much everything they wanted.
It annoys the hell out of me that the dust will settle and nobody will be brought to account.
SOZLOL, fans … now buy your tickets, and merchandise. Pay your money, keep working on raising last year’s record revenue of $US 3.3 billion.
NHL fans should have no illusions any more about what their role is. Open your wallet or get lost. Including me.
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