OTTAWA - Other than an obvious disdain for authoritative figures, there often seems to be no good reason for fans to boo the commissioner or president of a league whenever he opens his mouth in their rink, stadium or park.
But Gary Bettman, quite frankly, is just asking for it.
The NHL’s little bossman deserves to be heckled mercilessly going forward — yes, even more so than he is now — if his insistence on hitting a home run for the owners in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiations leads to yet another work stoppage. In doing what he might think is best for the game, Bettman is causing all sorts of damage from a fan’s perspective. He could also be ending the career of the greatest player in Senators history.
And that just might be enough for him to nudge past Alexei Yashin and Dany Heatley as the most-despised individual to set foot in Scotiabank Place.
Many people in these parts, already suffocated by the summer’s heat, are now growing impatient with Daniel Alfredsson’s dilly-dallying on whether to retire or play on. But really, who can blame him? The way it stands, Alfredsson is probably like the rest of us in that he doesn’t know when, or even if, there will be a game to be played in 2012-13.
So maybe he doesn’t want to maintain his gruelling training schedule for a season that will never be, or at least one that appears in doubt. Maybe, as he nears 40, he doesn’t want to work out as hard as he does for a season that won’t start until Dec. 1, as some are guessing.
Maybe he just wants to play, but he has insider’s information or too much experience watching pigheaded billionaire owners bicker with stubborn millionaire players to know that there’s a good chance it might not happen for him.
From this angle, there’s only one other possible reason for the delay in his decision, or at least his decision to make everybody wait. It’s not that he’s sitting on the fence so much as that fence is in Sweden.
Shortly after the season ended, about the time he would normally start getting back in top shape, Alfredsson came down with some sort of virus. It kept him from doing much of anything for about a week. He told friends that as soon as he felt better, he would get back into his routine. Not long thereafter, he and his family headed to his homeland for a scheduled eight-week vacation. No doubt Alfredsson’s holidays included hours a day in the gym, or at least some sort of heavy cardiovascular exorcise.
Personally, I believe he fully intends on suiting up for season No. 17, if that season begins as scheduled. The final indication was provided by GM Bryan Murray, who last week told reporters he had a good conversation with Alfredsson. He sounded very optimistic. That wasn’t by accident. Murray must know even more than he’s saying. I’m guessing his search for another front-line player would be much more intense if he thought for a minute that his best right winger was hanging up his blades.
I am not buying that Alfredsson is looking for more money, or a contract extension, although he might eventually get both. And I don’t believe his announcement is being held off to kickstart a promotional campaign, although the confirmation of No. 11’s return would surely translate into more season-ticket sales.
I just think that whatever he has to say about his future, he’s classy enough to say it in Ottawa, when he gets back. Unless travel plans change, that should be sometime around Aug. 15.
Maybe by that time, there will be some positive progress made in CBA talks. Maybe, just maybe, Bettman will fool us all and actually orchestrate an agreement, rather than another work stoppage that could not only be a crippling blow to the game, but also solidify his standing as Public Enemy No. 1 in Canada’s capital.
With that, he’d be best not to even bother darkening Scotiabank Place with his presence again.