3 Strikes on Bettman
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in Edmonton Saturday for the Atlanta Thrashers and Edmonton Oilers game. During the second intermission, Bettman reiterated his desire to see a new downtown arena complex for the city.
Here we go again.
It’s Sept. 16, 2012, and once again the NHL season has been put on hold because Gary Bettman has locked out the players. This is now the third time the NHL has decided to lock out the players. I’m not surprised. Ever since I was a part of the NHL, this is how the league does business and how Bettman knows he can get the 30 owners their best deal.
I was a young rookie back in 1994 with the Detroit Red Wings when Bettman and company first locked out the players.
I really had no views or opinion on what was going on at the time. All I knew was that the season was being put on hold and my dream of becoming a full-time NHL player was going to have to wait, whether I liked it or not.
When you’re a young player in the NHL, especially one that’s not a first-rounder or high-profile player, you basically go with the flow and follow the leaders and high-profile veterans who are the voices in the dressing room. At least that was the case for me in 1994.
When the season finally did resume in January 1995, we ended up playing a shortened season. The pressure to win in Detroit was huge, so instead of playing alongside Paul Coffey and learning from the best in the usual 80-game schedule, Scotty Bowman sent me packing to Anaheim in exchange for Stu “The Grim Reaper” Grimson.
The lockout affected every player in different ways in 1994, depending on where you were at in your career.
Many older veterans never played again. Although getting traded from Detroit was tough for me, I was fortunate to go to a young Anaheim team where my career got on track.
Fast forward to 2004.
I was enjoying a solid career and just coming off the last year of my contract with the Nashville Predators.
I knew another lockout was coming because then-NHLPA head Bob Goodenow had been preparing us for that day two years in advance. Every player young and old knew it was coming and we were told that there was no way to avoid it.
Took salary cap
The biggest issue in 2004 was the owners — with Bettman acting as the front man once again — were insisting that the financial side of the game was broken and the only way to fix it was to implement a salary cap.
I remember back then we were all taught and schooled on the fact that a salary cap would be terrible and I can honestly say that when the lockout began, most players, including myself, thought we would never except a cap.
We all know what happened, the cap was implemented and the longer the players waited, the worse the deal got.
An entire season was lost and once again many players were never heard from again on NHL ice.
A 24% rollback on salaries was put in place, along with many other triggers to help the owners turn a profit.
My career took a hit because many older players like myself were replaced for younger, cheaper versions. But that’s the nature of the beast in pro sports and you know that when you sign up to take a go at being a pro athlete.
When NHL games resumed in the fall of 2005, I’d had enough of waiting around. So I decided to sign a deal in Switzerland, where I enjoyed a fantastic season along with rediscovering my love and passion for the game.
I came back to the NHL the following season and played my final year of pro hockey with the Boston Bruins.
I was lucky to play during a time when NHL players made great salaries and although I was affected by two lockouts, I was fortunate by the time the second one came along it was near the end of my career.
The sting of losing a year or maybe the end of my career — although not ideal — wouldn’t be the end of the world.
This time around, the stakes are much higher, the business of hockey has grown through the roof. There’s a lot to lose on both sides of the fence.
Now that I’m on the outside looking in, I realize that the biggest losers in all of this won’t be the players and the owners or even the fans for that matter. It’s all the people, the real people who work in the rinks, the ticket offices, the concession stands and offices of NHL teams; the restaurants; the businesses; and everybody else who depends on making a living through NHL hockey.
All of these people will be the real ones who lose.