SUN Hockey Pool

Owners' decision is puzzling

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:40 AM ET

Here are the choices that the National Hockey League owners faced when evaluating the Dec. 9 offer from the NHL Players' Association. 1. Shut down the season and take a guaranteed loss.

2. Start with a profit-making situation and do business in a sensible fashion to increase that profit.

They selected the first option. And they wonder why we keep saying they're stupid.

Yesterday, Gary Bettman, who managed to do what once seemed impossible -- inflict more damage on the game than John Ziegler -- turned down the players' offer that appears workable to everyone in the world but him, his minions and the 30 club owners.

First of all, we have only Bettman's word for this purported owner solidarity. In keeping with his evaluation of their intellect, he doesn't allow them to comment on the status of the negotiations.

During the period of Bettman's devastating tenure (is it possible that he's a National Basketball Association mole dispatched from his high-level position in that league to destroy its nearest competitor from within?) he consistently has promised new owners that he would inflict a salary cap upon the players.

It was his enticement to owners contemplating the purchase of expansion teams in hockey hotbeds such as Nashville, Atlanta and Columbus. It was his enticement to owners comtemplating the purchase of existing teams in places such as Phoenix, Montreal, Miami, Buffalo, Ottawa and others.

At no time did he say to these new patsies, "I'm going to get you a better deal, one that will allow you to make good money if you show the slightest modicum of common sense."

Instead, he said something along the lines of, "I promise I will get you a deal that won't allow you to think for yourself. And better still, my concept will stop anyone more astute than you from reaping the rewards of his acumen, so that no matter how much of a dolt you may be -- and you obviously are a dolt if you're thinking of buying a team in a league run by me -- you'll make a profit."

So yesterday, there was Bettman up on the podium trying to justify the rejection of concessions that other leagues have no hope of getting from their respective unions.

He repeatedly referred to the "enhanced product" that would be created if his salary-cap proposal were accepted, but failed to say how the same players who are playing now would somehow play for less money and enhance the product.

He was asked why he insisted the owners would continue to raise salaries at a rate of 12% -- the average over the past 10 years -- when that's exactly the course of action that caused this mess. Surely even NHL owners, who would have to be stood in pots and watered regularly if they were any dumber, couldn't be that stupid, could they?

There was no clear answer to that one either.

He was asked why the owners couldn't simply recreate the sensible approach they finally produced last year when salaries rose by 2.2%. That one, he said, could be answered only in a private seminar.

He was asked why he insisted on basing the economic future on the precedent of the past ten years when the players' proposal made significant changes to that system and took away the leverage points that cause the inflation.

He said he didn't agree with the premise.

BACKWARD STEP

For reasons known only to Bettman, he took a backward step yesterday.

The players' proposal is fully workable and even if the league wanted to tinker with it a bit and argue some of the clauses, that could no doubt be arranged.

But Bettman has tossed it aside and, probably, the prospects for a season went with it.

What is John Ziegler doing these days?


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