Once again Paddy and I found ourselves under the television set at the back of the coffee shop. This time it was tuned to Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon. As usual, Daren Millard, Nick Kypreos and Doug MacLean were all talking at once.
“Gawd,” Paddy lamented, “I wish those guys would behave like professional broadcasters rather than like spoiled kids fighting over the last piece of cake. I think they’re talking about the NHL lockout, but how in hell do they ever hope to make a coherent point in that babble? That’s assuming they have any coherent points.”
I took Paddy’s question to be rhetorical and said nothing.
“Well,” he asked, “what’s your view?”
“About which, the lockout or the babble?” I asked.
“Both,” he said. “But before you answer; I loved your letter to the editor where you said you didn’t expect much from a basketball guy and a baseball guy trying to solve hockey problems.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I suspect the babble is just part of their shtick; but as far as the lockout is concerned, a pox on both their houses.”
“But it was the league that locked the players out,” Paddy said, “the players didn’t go on strike.”
“Yes,” I replied, “but I think the players made a mistake by not starting negotiations as soon as the playoffs were over. Donald Fehr should have recognized that the owners, having fleeced the players the last time around, would be out for more wool this time and that the longer meaningful negotiations were put off the more difficult the talks would be.
“Furthermore,” I went on, “if the four bottom-earning franchises were eliminated, and the next two worst-earning franchises were moved to Canada, most, if not all, of the league’s money problems would be removed and a settlement would be more easily reached. But, Fehr and the players would never agree to that, wrong-headed though they are.”
“Because of the loss of jobs,” observed Paddy.
“Yes,” I agreed, “but the eighty or so players who would be out of jobs would be taken care of through normal attrition. So, it’s really one-time future jobs that would be lost. And, at that point, those guys simply wouldn’t be good enough to play in the NHL. The players’ association resisting contraction is like sticking up for guys cut from training camp because they couldn’t make the team.”
“Wouldn’t the owners be against giving up four franchises?” Paddy suggested.
“Not as much as Bettman would be,” I answered. “Bettman is too egotistical and arrogant to admit that he was wrong about expansion. I think a commissioner who really understood and cared about the game could convince the owners to contract by four and move two to Canada. Remember, I’m talking about six franchises that are losing their shirts. The four who would disappear could be compensated by the remaining owners, which would likely be cheaper than it will be to continue propping them up; and the two whose franchises were moved to Quebec and southern Ontario could likely sell at fair market to new local ownership.”
“So, you really believe Bettman doesn’t care about the game?” asked Paddy.
“I believe Bettman cares about the game only in the context of his own reputation and ego. Otherwise, how do you explain his actions regarding Phoenix? As I said, if he hadn’t engaged in his bone-headed and unwarranted expansion, most of the league’s current financial problems wouldn’t exist and the owners could have a reasonable level of revenue-sharing without having to get the players to prop up Gary’s follies.”
Paddy went on, “You also said Bettman doesn’t understand the game.”
“That’s right,” I acknowledged. “My guess is that before he became commissioner the only time he’d ever been in a rink was to attend basketball games at Madison Square Garden.”
Nodding toward the TV set, Paddy said, “I saw John Shannon say on TV the other night that since Bettman became commissioner the league revenues have increased remarkably.”
“They have. But that was in spite of Bettman, not because of Bettman,” I countered. “All the four major pro sports leagues have had tremendous increases in revenues over the same period of time.”
Paddy said, “I also heard Shannon say that Bettman saved a couple of Canadian teams.”
“Well he certainly eliminated a couple of Canadian teams by moving the Jets and the Nordique to the States,” I said.
“But he also moved Atlanta to Winnipeg,” countered Paddy.
“Sure,” I said, “but only because the Atlanta owners would have left him with another Phoenix on his hands.”
“OK,” Paddy said, “but Shannon said that Bettman saved Calgary and Edmonton.”
“The main reason that Calgary and Edmonton are so much better off now is the incredible increase in the value of the Canadian dollar. I doubt that even Gary Bettman is enough of an egotist to take credit for that,” I opined.
“John Shannon made one point the other night that I don’t think you can refute,” said Paddy.
Now, although I have the greatest respect for John Shannon’s knowledge of sports facts and history, when it comes to his opinions my respect is not quite as high. So I asked, “What was that?”
“It was about revenue sharing,” Paddy explained. “Shannon said that when the St. Louis Blues come to the Air Canada Centre they sell out, so the Leafs should share some of their revenue with St. Louis, which doesn’t sell out when the Leafs play there.”
“That’s exactly what I mean,” I said. “Shannon’s facts are correct: a Leafs/Blues game will sell out at the Air Canada Centre and will not sell out in St. Louis. But, his opinion that this means the Leafs should share their revenue with the Blues is dead wrong.”
“Why?” asked Paddy.
“Because if it was a Quebec team, or another southern Ontario team, instead of St. Louis that came to the Air Canada Center, the game would still be a sell out. But so would the games when the Leafs went to their rinks, so massive revenue sharing wouldn’t be necessary. And the same thing would apply if Tampa, Miami, Columbus, and Nashville never played here again, but were replaced by extra games with Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Montreal, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New York,” I argued.
“So, you’re dead against revenue sharing?” Paddy suggested.
“Not completely,” I explained, “I’m in favour of sharing national revenue, such as TV revenue and league sponsorships. But I am against sharing local or regional revenue. And I’m certainly against revenue sharing needed to prop up teams that shouldn’t even exist.”
“If you were an owner, I take it you’d vote for firing Bettman,” said Paddy.
“Absolutely,” I agreed. “If I were an owner I’d move to have him fired. I’ve been told by someone who knows about these things (and it wasn’t John Shannon) that it would cost each team about 1.3 million dollars to buy out Bettman. I think that would be a good investment.”
“Is there anything about Bettman you like?” asked Paddy as we got up to leave.
“No,” I said.