"Nobody wants to make a deal, more than I do."
This is what NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday afternoon during his media press conference (via Renaud Lavoie of RDS) after the league made a counterproposal to the NHLPA, which we found out later was an offer that the players didn't think was good enough.
Before you blame Bettman and call him the worst thing that's ever happened to the NHL, realize that there's plenty of incentive for him to make a deal. Remember, a lockout on Saturday would be the third of his tenure as commissioner. I can't imagine that this is the legacy he'd want to leave, as he certainly wouldn't want to be remembered for his involvement in numerous lockouts.
Bettman works for the 29 owners in the NHL, and even though he can advise them to go in a certain direction, these men ultimately decide the league's position on labor negotiations. Wednesday's proposal from the league included input from two significant owners:
Bettman said NHL proposal was formulated after hearing player offer with assistance from BOS owner Jeremy Jacobs & CGY owner Murray Edwards.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) September 12, 2012
Instead of players voicing their displeasure with the owners who sign their checks, they criticize Bettman, even though he's probably not the one taking a hard stance on many of the issues.
The owners are.
Bettman has to save the owners from their own mistakes and find them a deal that's better than the current one, despite the fact the current one benefited them quite a bit.
The natural reaction for the fans is to side with the players, especially when they blame Bettman for what's going on in the labor negotiations. What fans need to realize is the reason why there could be another lockout is because many owners are too greedy to compromise and get a deal done to ultimately avoid missing any regular-season games.
The owners are the ones to blame for the league's proposal not being good enough for the players to accept, or work with. Bettman didn't hand out absurd contracts that weren't smart, and he didn't make poor financial decisions that caused teams to lose money.
You can criticize Bettman for relocating teams, attempting to grow the game by putting teams in markets he probably shouldn't have and dedicating so much time and money to save existing franchises (i.e. Phoenix Coyotes), but he cannot be solely blamed for the players and owners being far apart in negotiations right now.
I'm not saying Bettman deserves zero blame; he does deserve some, but he definitively isn't the main problem right now.
Before you blame Bettman, know that he works for the owners, and his job is to get the CBA they want. He's an easy target, but he's not the enemy in this fight, and he's not the person you should be angry at.
That person is likely your favorite team's owner(s).