Bettman poised to play the greed card in negotiations

 

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was widely flayed this week for his whistling-past-the-graveyard performance at the board of governors meeting in Florida. Talking heads were aghast and amazed. How could the Commish reconcile his sunny disposition with the gloom of an economy compared by Oilers prez Pat Laforge to the voyage of the Titanic?

 
 
 

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was widely flayed this week for his whistling-past-the-graveyard performance at the board of governors meeting in Florida. Talking heads were aghast and amazed. How could the Commish reconcile his sunny disposition with the gloom of an economy compared by Oilers prez Pat Laforge to the voyage of the Titanic?

Simple. Bettman is giddy because the voodoo economy now gives him the hammer against players in the next CBA negotiations. The target? Guaranteed contracts. The Count knows that the present financial turmoil will turn the public against rich players with enormous contracts in 2012. All he and the owners have to do is play the greed card and watch the fun. When Bettman is done beating them up in the press, the league will be able to get out from under the koo-koo deals negotiated since the last contract to end all contracts.

For that reason, Bettman remains popular with owners despite the Del Biaggios and Balsillies. The only stumbling block? Will the public buy Bettman as the "saviour" of hockey again after broken promises of ticket-price stability and contract sanity last time out? The NHL board will have to decide on Bettman's credibility in the next year or so. After that--bombs away!

Sticker Shock

Immediate litmus test for Mr. "Would You Buy A Slightly Used Franchise" Bettman will be playoff-ticket pricing. Much of the NHL's seasonal revenue was gathered before the financial tsunami hit. But playoff commitments will come amidst the wreck if the American economy. Traditionally, teams jack up seat prices in the playoffs by two, three and sometimes five times their face value in the regular season.

Good luck selling that come April with GM and Ford closing plants. Playoff pricing will be a serious test of the NHL's usually tin ear to the public.

Aves On Broadway

Rumour du jour on The Welcome Mats Sundin watch. He signs this week with the Rangers. "Slats" Sather clears cap space by sending either Michal Rosival or Wade Redden to Dallas. The Stars send Sean Avery to the minors after his the termination of his counselling for being an angry potty mouth. The Blueshirts claim Avery on recallable waivers, send him to the minors till it's safe to bring him back into adult company. Or else something else happens.

Puck Drops

Rumbles tell IDLM the NHL continues to encourage Winnipeg interests.

With as many as six teams looking for salvation, even a risky franchise in the Manitoba capital looks good to league eyes . . . Add Columbus to the cities considered wobbly. Insiders say if the hapless Jackets don't bring in the lapels soon, they could be among the franchises to explore a second Toronto franchise . . . If/when the centre of the universe gets its second team, IDLM suggests they call it the Toronto Liberals. After all, what says Toronto more than the Liberal Party? . . . Not that he's selling the Sabres (ahem), but owner Tom Golisano is going to insert a poison pill clause in any sale insisting on the team staying in Buffalo for a good while. Not that he's selling . . . Chris McGrattan in drug and alcohol rehab? Now why would a guy with a dignified job like brawler seek comfort off the job?

Atlanta's Burning

Tuesday, a jury awarded Texas car dealer David McDavid $281 million after deciding that Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System cheated him out of ownership of the Thrashers, Hawks, and Philips Arena operating rights. That means that the current owners are free to sell the Thrashers--when they eventually iron out their own internal ownership battle--to a buyer who will move them as soon as the vans can pull up to the gate. That makes them the most portable of all the NHL cripples.

Yank My Chain

People are still gobsmacked at the deals signed this week by the Yankees' new boss, Hank Steinbrenner, for C. C. Sabathia ($160MUS/seven years) and A. J. Burnett ($82MUS/five years). In this economy? It's an affront to sanity. Until you check out the ticket prices at new Yankee Stadium--the first two rows go for $2,500 a seat. Without a World Series win since 2000 and no Series appearance since 2003, Baby Streinbrenner has got to justify those ducat prices by winning. Result: Carl Pavano . . . er, A. J. Burnett.

With so much of NYC's financial services biz tapped out, it will be interesting to see how many of those $2500 seats are occupied.

Viva Las Vegas

Finally, our pal Billy Johnson is at it again with the Las Vegas Wranglers, the Flames farm team. On the heels of Dick Cheney hunting vest night in 2006, the team is holding Rod Blagojevich night against the Victoria Salmon Kings on January 30th. In honour of the embattled Illinois governor, the team will wear vintage prison uniforms with stripes and "ILLGOV" on the back. The jerseys will feature prison numbers, and a seat between the two benches will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. After the game, those prison uniforms will be signed and auctioned for charity.

No word if president elect Obama plans to conduct the ceremonial faceoff.

dowbboy@shaw.Ca

 
 
 
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