SUN Hockey Pool

Bettman guilty of cruel intentions?

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:26 PM ET

You have to wonder if the NHL ever intended to play hockey this season. Although the season has not officially be cancelled -- and there's no guarantee NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will announce its end -- it will continue to dissipate until the league and its players' association agree on how to split a $2-billion US pie.

There's also a belief Bettman's reluctancy to put a drop-dead date on the season is just part of his grand scheme of imposing a salary cap in the new collective bargaining agreement, but there may be more to the commissioner's inability to compromise.

This could be about Bettman's desire to bring NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow and the 700 players to their knees -- complete with the white flag.

"Despite months of public relations initiatives to the contrary, it is now very obvious that the league is not interested in any form of compromise or negotiated settlement," said agent J.P. Barry, co-managing director of IMG Hockey.

"Their singular ambition of capitulation is now laid bare. The players have already offered unprecedented changes to almost every significant element of the current system and they remain open to even more compromise."

Which is why you have to wonder if this whole exercise is merely about union busting. Sources say the league is confident if an impasse is declared, 50% of the players in the PA would cross the line next September.

"These two sides haven't gotten along for years and if you look at everything that's happened here it's pretty easy to see that this is about trying to make the union pay for everything that's happened in the past," said a league source.

"The union has fought the league tooth and nail on every issue and won. Nobody has gone to arbitration and really come away a loser. The union has filed grievances over the way statistics are kept and the size of goalie equipment. This might be Gary Bettman's way of saying, '(Bleep) you' to Goodenow."

It's no accident league officials were quietly telling media the players were getting restless before Wednesday's bargaining session in Toronto, and they had reason to believe the players would surrender to a cap.

The NHL is certainly within its rights to hold the season hostage in order put what it deems a proper system in place.

The players, on the other hand, recognize the problems with rising salaries in the past decade and felt their proposal would help address the issues.

The problem with the PA's 24% rollback, however, is the owners can't trust each other's spending habits and Bettman doesn't believe it's going to prevent the rise of salaries in the future.

"The NHL seriously miscalculated if they thought the players would simply give in to these kind of tactics, but submission isn't in the DNA of a hockey player," said Barry.

"So now the question becomes: What is the end game? What kind of leadership takes a $2-billion-plus enterprise and jumps out of a plane with no parachute? There is no end game strategy because nobody can predict where we are headed if we walk away from this season."

Most predicted this battle would be lengthy when Bettman locked the doors on Sept. 15, but few figured it would go on long enough to let the season die.

"This is all idiotic," said a league source, "but there may be no stopping the disaster now."

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


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