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Bettman not to blame for NHL's CBA mess

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at a press conference in Toronto last month. (VERONICA HENRI, QMI...

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at a press conference in Toronto last month. (VERONICA HENRI, QMI Agency)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:55 PM ET

Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals captain who has a way of summing things up, blames the current collective bargaining impasse between the NHL and its players on The Bettman.

Fair comment.

Two months after leaving to cover the British Open and the Olympics and to chase a golf ball around Ireland for a couple of weeks, a guy comes back and things are pretty much where they were in mid-July, as far as progress on talks on the big economic issues between the league and its players.

No surprise there.

This was not going to be easy after the NHL Players Association took its sweet time to get to the bargaining table as new executive director Donald Fehr got the lay of the land. Then again, talks were never going to get serious until some deadlines started to arise.

We're starting to get into that country now.

This is a negotation with both sides out to get what they want. It's NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's job to claw back some money from the players and it's Fehr's job to minimize the damage.

Both sides seem to agree on that.

There's a compromise in there somewhere and it will be found. The question remains, what lies between here and there. It's a negotiation. Both sides are entitled to make outrageous or unreasonable demands. The other side can kick them to the curb.

The one surprising thing is the amount of vitriol and personal attacks on Bettman for the current labour situation.

The Bettman has his share of haters, many of them Canadian and a few in the media. When the fans and the media are about to be deprived of their NHL hockey fix, there's got to be a bad guy, right?

I don't think it bothers him.

The fact is, there is only one court of opinion that matters when it comes to the commissioner and that's what the 30 owners who pay his $8 million a year salary think.

At this point, they've got to think The Bettman is doing a pretty good job, no?

Look, I don't have a dog in this fight but clearly Bettman is winning this battle.

He got the owners their "cost certainty" in the form of a salary cap as a result of the last lockout in 2004-05, even though the only certainty was the league's owners and GMs would find ways to circumvent the language of the deal.

Fans came flocking back in record numbers, thanks to Canada, where just about everywhere but Ottawa there hasn't been a ticket to be had since 2005.

There's that increase in league revenue, even if a chunk of it is because of the increase in value of the Canadian dollar. The fact is, revenue from tickets, new media and the league's corporate showcases like the Winter Classic -- the 2011 version was the most-viewed game in 36 years -- have grown the business.

He kept bankrupt teams in Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Ottawa when the easy thing to do would have been let them fold.

As colleague Scott Burnside of ESPN.com reported Wednesday, it also looks like Bettman -- credit deputy commissioner Bill Daly for all this stuff, too -- is about to pull the ultimate rabbit out of his butt and get the Phoenix Coyotes situation resolved and recoup the money the owners put into keeping the Coyotes on life support for the last three years.

All of that stuff has helped the ultimate bottom line and has shown up in the value of the franchises. Forbes magazine -- again, take it for what it's worth -- reported in its annual evaluation of NHL franchise values that eight of the NHL's 30 teams enjoyed more than a double-digit increase in their value from the 2009-10 season to 2010-11.

Try getting a better than 10% return on any investment these days.

Seven franchises saw their values decline, but they were almost all in the 1-2% range. The financial mess in which the New Jersey Devils found themselves resulted in a decline of 17%. Without the Devils in the mix, franchise values increased by almost 6% across the league.

So you can hate on The Bettman if you think he's not a hockey guy, the way he can be condescending in answering questions or even how he looks.

You can hate on him for the current situation.

But NHL owners have to love the way he's doing his job at this point and that's what counts.

BETTMAN DOING HIS JOB

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has become the guy in the black hat as an NHL lockout looms.

Despite public opinion, there a lot of aspects of the business of the NHL that have never been better under Bettman's watch.

In the eyes of many hockey fans -- particularly those in Canada -- Bettman is the bad guy. In the eyes of the owners, he's making most of them money and that's his job.

1. Owners have seen the value of their franchises increase an average of almost 6% year-to-year, according to Forbes Magazine's annual ranking from the 2009-10 to 2010-2011 seasons. More than a quarter of the league (eight teams) enjoyed double-digit increases.

2. Bettman looks like he's close to saving the Phoenix Coyotes situation and recouping the money the owners put in to to keep the franchise afloat over the last three years. ESPN.com reported Wednesday potential owner Greg Jamison has got his financing together and a deal is immiment (OK, you can't be blamed for a group eye-roll.)

3. It cost the NHL a season, but Bettman got the owners their "cost certainty" with the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season. The league came back from that work stoppage stronger than ever.

4. The NHL has a 10-year TV deal that actually pays them money to have their games shown on NBC (what a concept). The Winter Classic has become a ratings bonanza for the league.

5. The disaster that was the Atlanta Thrashers was almost seamlessly resolved by moving the team to Winnipeg, where they were reincarnated as the Jets 2.0.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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