NHL CBA Negotiations: Why Gary Bettman Isn't to Blame

Daniel Friedman@DFriedmanNHLCorrespondent ISeptember 6, 2012

NEWARK, NJ - MAY 30:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman addresses the media prior to Game One between the Los Angeles Kings and the New Jersey Devils in the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Prudential Center on May 30, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Though I'm sure most of you won't bother reading the rest of this article and will immediately direct your attention to the comments below, I'm going to fill this space with writing, just in case anyone's willing to hear me out.

We're just nine days away from the September 15 deadline that was set by the NHL at the start of these negotiations and, barring a miracle, that date will come and go without a new deal between the league and the NHLPA. 

Hockey fans are upset, and they have every reason to be. Should this likely scenario play out, it'll mark the third work stoppage (1993-94, 2004-05, 2012-13) of Gary Bettman's reign as the NHL's commissioner. 

It's the natural tendency to hold Bettman, or any other league commissioner, responsible. Basketball and football fans were quick to charge the NBA's David Stern and the NFL's Roger Goodell during the labor disputes that occurred in both leagues last year.

It therefore comes as no surprise that Bettman is under such scrutiny right now, with the start of the NHL regular season hanging in the balance. 

Does Gary Bettman play a role here? He absolutely does, and by no means am I attempting to completely exonerate him in this situation. 

However, I think that some people might have a flawed perception of how much power (or lack thereof) a league commissioner actually has. 

Bettman's held the post since February 1, 1993, when the owners appointed him as the first commissioner in league history.

Though it doesn't get much attention, the fact remains that the NHL's revenues have risen dramatically, from $400 million (in 1993) to more than $3 billion (through 2010-11).

Say what you will about the current state of affairs, but if not for that financial growth, the conversation might not be about an impending lockout, but instead about whether or not the NHL would even be able to stay afloat.

Of course, there are decisions he's made that have backfired, but Bettman's done a lot of right things too, and, for the most part, those go unnoticed. 

Now, with regards to his involvement in these CBA negotiations, I think that people need to understand who really calls the shots. Gary Bettman's job is to represent the owners and their interests, so if they want to lock out the players, Bettman has to act accordingly.

If you think he can stand up in the boardroom and tell the owners that he hears their point but the season's going to start on time anyways, you're sorely mistaken. They'd ask him to step down and then replace him with someone else who'll cooperate. 

Bettman becomes the fall guy here, but it's not necessarily deserved. If you're blaming him, you're directing your anger at the wrong person.

It's each of the 30 team owners you should be upset at, because they're the ones who pay Bettman's salary, and, therefore by default, they're the ones who decide whether or not to lock out the players and, ultimately, the fans. 

You may or may not agree with me here, but either way, I hope you'll at least consider the points I've made.

Let's hope the NHL and NHLPA reach an agreement as soon as possible and that we're watching the sport we so dearly love in the near future. 


Comments are welcome. 

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