SUN Hockey Pool

Split decision

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:59 AM ET

Standing at his podium, seconds after pushing the self-destruct button, Gary Bettman was asked how he felt.

The NHL commissioner said he could sum it up in one word: Terrible.

Appropriate.

His powerplay on the eve of cancelling the season -- something a pair of world wars couldn't do -- should make him feel terrible.

Bettman isn't alone in deserving blame. Bob Goodenow and the players should be chastised for their greed and unwillingness to come to a solution.

But Bettman, who along with Goodenow should be forced to the unemployment line, proved to be a poor winner and that's why this wasn't solved.

In the final 48 hours before the league's implosion, Bettman received the gift he'd been looking for -- the players were willing to accept a salary cap.

Victory. Conquest.

However, instead of taking the triumph with dignity, the man who's stolen the game from fans across the continent became greedy.

Instead of putting the finishing touches on a deal, he chose to shove it in the players' collective faces. Instead of being gracious and going the final steps to convince the players to take his deal, Bettman chose to use the term "final offer" and galvanized the skaters.

Tuesday morning, the union was in disarray. Players were angry upon waking to news their no-cap stance was gone. They were mad at Goodenow and, to some extent, split among each other.

Most importantly, they were tired of the fight. Ripe for the picking.

That's not to say the players were going to take the proposal with a $42.5-million salary cap. In fact, they may not ever have gone that far but it was the chance Bettman and the owners were looking for.

A smoother touch might have sealed the deal. Explain why $42.5 million is the limit but offer another olive branch like the profit-sharing discussed earlier or a reduction in the free-agency age.

Instead, Bettman opted to slam his agenda on the players, belittle and mock them.

In turn, the players were united in their feeling and gave Goodenow all he needed to shut down discussions.

End of season, end of story.

Again, let the record show Goodenow's gang aren't innocent in flatlining the NHL season.

The players took too long to realize the owners were serious. They took too long to realize the golden goose could now only provide fewer eggs. They didn't do enough.

Would it have been so bad for them to go to the $45-million figure bandied about by so many in at least an effort to bridge the gap and see what happens?

Heck, $42.5 million is better than nothing and will look good a year from now.

But Bettman is supposed to be the leader, the steward of the game, and he blew it with strong-arm tactics.

The owners can talk all they want about already over-extending themselves with their final offer and that going to $45 million would have been even worse.

But that couple of million dollars -- which would have been shelled out by only a handful of teams -- will be a drop in the bucket to the cost it'll take to rebuild the NHL.


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