Three days into 2005, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL PR man Frank Brown invited me to Gary's office in Manhattan to interview him for a profile piece. Gary and I talked in his office for about 45 minutes, and I came away liking him more than I previously did.
We talked about him growing up in New York, his family, how he had to rush home from a Mets game to see the birth of his daughter, his time at Cornell, and the then-current labor problems that he helped create. He was very convincing telling me that he could fix economic problems that plagued his league.
The last thing he said to me on my way out the door was, "Go easy on me."
I wasn't. I wrote a fairly critical profile titled, "The Man Who Killed the NHL". Gary is not a bad guy, and he deserves credit for much of the NHL's financial success and growth. If he gets all of the blame for the bad, he deserves the credit for the good.
On Thursday in NYC, Bettman and NHLPA boss Don Fehr again met to disagree. We are a few days away from yet another work stoppage on Bettman's watch. That should be enough.
Bettman told reporters in Thursday, "Nobody wants to make a deal and play hockey more than I do. This is very hard and I feel terrible about it."
I do believe him. I also believe he can't say what he wants, which is the people he represents - the owners - want to make more money and their employees should be grateful to play hockey at an absurd salary proportionate to their owner's perceived value.
Bettman's job is to represent the owners, and in 2004 he had carte blanche to do everything up to and including cancelling an entire season. He won't have that type of limitless power this time.
When he completes this deal, and he will, Gary Bettman needs to begin looking for his successor. The NHL needs a new voice with new ideas and a different style.
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