What, are you guys still here?

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

Bad news from the hockey front: Bob Goodenow and Gary Bettman aren't going anywhere.

They said so yesterday, with solemn faces.

They aren't leaving. They aren't quitting. They aren't walking away.

Hockey is coming back and so are they.

The bully and the bull-artist, in business again, starring sadly as the two most powerful men in the National Hockey League. Not understanding how much they are despised. Not comprehending how much they are mistrusted by the small world that still cares passionately about big-league hockey. Not in any way realizing how their fingerprints are all over this sporting carnage.

What a stage and what an opportunity there was for Bettman and Goodenow yesterday to start the NHL anew. All they had to do was smile, shake hands, make the obvious announcement that the new collective bargaining agreement had been ratified by the players (as if they had any choice) -- and then say goodbye.

Just like that.

The same people who had advanced the game so far that it almost eclipsed the Westminster Dog Show in television numbers are still in charge. One as commissioner. One as head of the Players' Association. That shouldn't be comforting even to the most ardent of hockey enthusiasts.

"We're part of a new partnership," Bettman said.

But it's the old partnership that's difficult to get past. This has been an entertainment product that stopped being entertaining. This has been a league with not a single recognizable face south of the border. This has been a television program that no American network would pay for. On paper, there were the kind of financial numbers that most respecting CEOs get turfed over.

But Goodenow, who had done more for players and less for hockey than almost anyone in history, is back in the forefront. And Bettman, who had made the NHL bigger and poorer all at the same time, is living out his gravy train contract. Neither had the good sense yesterday to say they were sorry -- or even offer to take a 24% paycut -- and symbolically, just about everything about them seems wrong.

Their look. Their words. Their vision. Everything.

The inability of these two men to negotiate cost the NHL a full season of play. The only time that has happened in professional sports history. They don't get penalized for their actions. They probably get bonuses. And in an industry forever shrinking, they cling to their long-term protection and talk about taking the game "to spectacular heights."

"Something good can come of this," said Neil Sheehy, the former NHL player and Harvard graduate, who is now a player agent. "We have to look at it that way. Do you think for a moment that the league would have taken the opportunity to try and make the game more entertaining if they hadn't lost a year?

"The game has a chance to advance now. The league has a chance to advance. We have to take that chance."

But some wonder if gambling on a Bettman-Goodenow ticket is little more than money thrown away.

QUESTIONS, CONCERNS

"I have a lot of questions and a lot of concerns," said Ritch Winter, the player-agent who has forever been critical of how the NHL conducts its business.

"All I know is, I have a friend who is a former hockey player who started a furniture business in Edmonton. His business is now all over the world and the revenue of one guy's business is almost the same as that of the NHL's. That tells you how small the NHL is.

"I even see what they're doing with the entry draft and I have to wonder about their creativity. They've got Sidney Crosby coming in, the biggest star in years, and they're holding the draft at an Ottawa hotel beside the Sheiman bar mitzvah and the Wilson wedding. They could have held the draft in Times Square. They could have had Paris Hilton picking the balls for the draft lottery. If they don't get creative, they'll have nothing in the end."

"It's a good time," Gary Bettman said, "for everybody to take a deep breath."

But it would have been an even better time to wave goodbye and walk away.


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