SUN Hockey Pool

Time for Bettman to bolt

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

To this point, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has refused to get involved in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

He has demanded a hard salary cap and frequently restated that demand, but he has yet to negotiate.

Perhaps it's time for the NHL to find a new commissioner, someone who can get a good deal for the owners without having them lose a season -- or more.

As hockey fans know only too well, bad leaders are easily found. But who would be a good leader?

A number of people from various parts of the hockey community who were consulted on the matter thought that Wayne Gretzky would be perfect.

Unfortunately, that is a purely hypothetical concept. Gretzky would never take the job. But there are those who would.

One might be Bettman's sidekick, Bill Daly. Even though Daly has been Bettman's point man during the lockout and has therefore occasionally been exposed to the ridicule that accrues to that position, he is seen by the governors as a sensible, capable administrator.

Unlike Bettman, he has some Canadian roots (Winnipeg to be precise) and has some feeling for the game, not just its legalities and trivialities.

COULD BUILD ON IT

And obviously, by virtue of his status as Bettman's adjutant, the league would not suffer a loss of continuity. He knows what has happened so far -- such as it is -- and could build on it.

In recent weeks, his profile has risen considerably as he remained involved in the negotiations while Bettman and NHL Players' Association boss Bob Goodenow stayed away.

If the league were to opt for an administrator with a proven track record, it could do worse than hire former Blue Jays boss Paul Beeston.

Beeston went on to work for major-league baseball in a capacity similar to the one Daly holds with the NHL, and there are still many baseball owners who feel that one of the dumbest high-level moves the sport made was to force Beeston out of that position.

Granted, he is not a hockey man, but he wasn't a baseball man when he started, either. He was a London accountant. Yet he did an excellent job and is a true conciliator, unlike anyone making decisions in the NHL office at the moment.

The whispers out of New York say that if there were to be a coup, the man most likely to succeed Bettman is Lou Lamoriello, general manager of the New Jersey Devils.

He is certainly no favourite of those who have to play for him and he is a tough negotiator. But he cares about the game and could give the owners the no-nonsense leader that they want. At the same time, they'd get a man who has spent most of his adult life at some level of hockey.

That could be a key factor. One of the reasons for the mistrust between the players and owners is that the players feel the owners care nothing about the game.

If this logjam is to be broken, the ill feelings between the two sides have to be overcome, and while Lamoriello is not exactly liked by the players, he is respected. That's more than can be said for most of the people who have represented the league recently.

Realistically, the best candidate would be Lamoriello who is a hockey man, not a lawyer. The lawyers have had their chance and look what they've done.


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