VANCOUVER — With the entry by U.S. federal mediators into the National Hockey League labour dispute, commissioner Gary Bettman may finally have to explain his reasons for war and provide a cogent economic argument why a league boasting record revenues needs massive concessions from players.
Or the NHL's acceptance of mediation could be for public relations, a charade to show the league did everything it could before scuttling another full season. Back in 2005, the league agreed to mediation three days before cancelling its campaign.
We'll learn within a couple of weeks, perhaps even this week, whether there's any good faith left in negotiations between the NHL and its players' association. But we know already that Bettman will continue to be the lightning rod for hostility over the owners' lockout.
Capping a week that saw Detroit Red Wing defenceman Ian White call Bettman an “idiot” and Florida Panthers' forward Kris Versteeg refer to the commissioner as a “cancer,” Chicago Blackhawk deep thinker Dave Bolland re-tweeted a Twitter follower's desire for “wanting Bettman dead.”
Bolland quickly apologized on Saturday – more or less as he did 11 months ago when he called Canuck stars Daniel and Henrik Sedin “sisters” and said Vancouver was full of “weirdos.” Canuck coach Alain Vigneault responded that Bolland had a brain the size of bird seed. No argument here, except some bird seed includes nuts, which can get pretty big. Like walnuts.
But it is mystifying and exasperating that in the third month of the lockout players continue to target Bettman almost exclusively, instead of taking aim at the 30 owners who drive this dispute through their top employee.
“Obviously a lot of frustration is guided towards their leader,” Canuck Manny Malhotra, part of the NHLPA's negotiating committee, said Monday after he and eight other locked-out NHLers practised with the University of B.C. Thunderbirds. “Really, when you think about it and you're talking about a $3 billion business, I don't think name-calling is going to get anything accomplished.”
“He's got 30 owners hiding behind him,” Henrik Sedin said of Bettman. “The way people are saying some things about him or tweeting about him, I think that's wrong. He's working for someone. I don't think he's running the agenda by himself.”
Probably not. But Canuck defenceman Kevin Bieksa disputes the notion that Bettman is merely employed to do the bidding of owners like any other corporate chieftain who answers to a board of directors.
“I don't think Gary takes orders from anyone,” Bieksa said. “I think he talks to some owners. And I don't think every owner's opinion carries the same weight. It's just my opinion, but I think there are a lot of owners who don't get a say. I strongly believe a lot of owners are left in the dark right now.”
Still, if Bolland really wants to be heard he should criticize Blackhawk owner Rocky Wirtz's complicity in a lockout that could undermine the NHL's terrific Renaissance in Chicago.
Versteeg should blast Panthers' ownership for draining NHL resources and helping enable Bettman in a voting structure rigged in the commissioner's favour.
White should ask publicly how Red Wings' owner Mike Ilitch could have been part of a unanimous vote in favour of the lockout when he has profited so handsomely from hockey.
The saddest statement from a player during the lockout was not Bolland's stupidity with social media but the retraction last month by Minnesota Wild defenceman Ryan Suter after he criticized lockout hawk Craig Leipold for signing $98-million contracts the team owner claims he can't afford and doesn't want to pay. Suter said he didn't mean to imply that Leipold had acted in bad faith.
But Leipold did. Suter had it right the first time.
MORE SUPER DAVE: Asked about Bolland wanting Bettman dead, Daniel Sedin said: “I'm lucky I never received a death threat. I'm happy I got off pretty easy.”
Bolland has battled the Sedins for years and famously so infuriated Daniel in the 2010 playoffs that the Canuck wanted to fight Bolland, which would have been a Sedin first in the NHL.
“I'm not a big Dave Bolland fan to begin with,” Bieksa said Monday. “I think he has handled the media wrong a couple of times in the past and this is just another example of Dave Bolland being Dave Bolland.”
REALLY GREY CUP: After analyzing Burton Cummings' rendition of O Canada as if it were the Zapruder film, I can conclude only that his hair gets longer and darker with age and both the lyrics and melody of the song he sang before Sunday's Grey Cup remain unclear. But an electric keyboard and canned drum beat can always win karaoke night.
It prompted the poll question on 1040 radio whether the worst thing about the Canadian Football League title game was Cummings, the disparate halftime show bookended by Gordon Lightfoot and Justin Bieber — an extravaganza for the ages, as long as your age wasn't between 12 and 72 — or the Calgary Stampeders.
Despite the blood in my ears, I'd go with the Stamps. They played their brains out to beat the B.C. Lions 34-29 in the Western Final, but were holograms in Sunday's 35-22 loss to the 9-9 Toronto Argos.
The Lions may have seemed like ungracious losers for saying they beat themselves against the Stampeders, but the Western champions' ineptitude Sunday indefinitely extended the mourning in Vancouver. So, at least the Stampeders have that going for them.
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