SUN Hockey Pool

The 'now' NHL: For the sake of argument

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

As the 15th anniversary of Gary Bettman's hiring passes without celebration, the level of unrest in the National Hockey League may be at an all-time high.

Animosity seems everywhere these days. Owners are fighting with owners. Players are fighting with players. If you listen long enough or hard enough to anyone who loves the game or the league, they will tell you what is wrong, instead of what is right.

This is what Bettman's NHL has become -- an argument that is never completed, a debate put off until the next board of governors meeting.

We don't have time to celebrate the brilliance of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, the fun it is to watch the Buffalo Sabres, the magnificent play of Martin Brodeur and Dominik Hasek because, frankly, the league won't allow us.

It is too busy arguing with itself.

Let's see now. All this was supposed to be settled when the league shut its doors to take inventory for a season before reopening a year ago September. If Bettman was in retail, he would forever be running a 'Going Out Of Business' sale, because the message from just about everyone in hockey is that something has to change.

Agreeing on what that something is, is another matter entirely.

The schedule is wrong. We know this to be true because more than half the owners in the league want to change it. How is this for business? You are selling tickets but telling consumers they are getting ripped off.

If there is something wrong with the schedule, change it. If there is nothing wrong with it, shut up about it. Keeping the conversation alive only injures the product.

And as the governors disagree with themselves -- acting very CFL in their ways, thinking about their own franchises instead of the overall good of the league -- more than one of them calls out Bettman for lack of leadership.

There has never been a "for the good of the game" clause in hockey. There should be.

A quick recap. Owners aren't agreeing with owners. Owners aren't agreeing with the commissioner, who works for the owners. The commissioner is not strong enough to be a commissioner and do what is right.

So we move on. The players, after the lockout, were supposed to be partners of the owners. That is almost working. What isn't working is the players working for the players. For all intents and purposes, the players are investigating themselves and the process is heated.

Ted Saskin, the head of the Players' Association, is hanging on to his job by a thread, and why shouldn't he be? Under the premise of double secret probation, he got himself hired and wound up with the fattest contract for a first-time union leader in the history of the world.

How he sleeps at night is anyone's guess, but until now he has gotten away with it. So one year after the settling of the lockout, a good portion of the players would like to lock Saskin out.

Hockey fans love a good fight. Nasty as this business might be, this doesn't help the image of anyone.

And we haven't even started on the rules. The rules that get argued about almost every night (see Brendan Shanahan on the matter of Jaromir Jagr).

The rules of the game were changed to implement more offence. But scoring is down this year. Teams are trapping again. So the next thing you hear about is changing the size of the nets. The debate is never-ending.

No sport continually tinkers with its rules and their interpretations the way hockey does. If the customer is continuously being told there is something wrong with the product, why buy it?

That is the overriding message from the NHL. The schedule stinks. The rules need changing. The jerseys need to look better. The all-star game format is flawed. The playoffs don't have enough teams. Finding Waldo is easier than finding hockey on television in the U.S.

This is Gary Bettman's NHL, where discourse has become an art. Never has there been more fighting off the ice and less fighting on it.

I would pine for the good old days, but the frightening thing is this: Gary Bettman is the best commissioner the NHL has ever had.

The only commissioner; which, by acclamation, makes him the best.


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