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NHL Lockout Flotsam: Does This Sound Familiar?

Bob Goodenow won the 1994-95 lockout, then entered the 2004 battle feeling a little too sure of himself. Is Gary Bettman making the same mistake?

Making fans cue the end of "Exit Music (For a Film)" since the '90s
Making fans cue the end of "Exit Music (For a Film)" since the '90s
Bruce Bennett

I'm trying my best not to pay any more attention to the daily collective circle jerk that the NHL and NHLPA are subjecting the sport of hockey to, but in reading "The Instigator," Jonathon Gatehouse's new book about Gary Bettman's 20 years as czar, I came across a passage that reminded me of today's labor standoff:

"[He] was inflexible. He was a prick. And he didn't think he had to do anything because he didn't think there was a snowball's chance in hell that the [other side] would hang together. He wasn't going anywhere. He wasn't making any concessions."

The excerpt in question, from p. 99 of the hardbound edition, is actually about former NHLPA head Bob Goodenow*.

But doesn't it sound a bit like Bettman and the ownership side during the current lockout?

*I removed Goodenow's name from the above passage, and the "other side" is also my edit to help hide that it actually referred to Goodenow's view of the owners.

According to the narrative of the NHL's infinite war with the NHLPA, Goodenow outlasted the NHL owners in 1994-95 and the PA obviously made millions off his firm stand. By the time the next lockout came around, the players were pulling in something like 75 percent of league revenues, an objectively absurd amount.

Again, according to the common narrative, this led Goodenow to think it was only a matter of time before the owners wilted again.

But they didn't. Goodenow's worst-case scenario of a salary cap came to pass. Goodenow ended up losing his job.

Now, coming off his decisive tactical win from the 2005 lockout, is Bettman making the same mistake? Is this why the owners have essentially offered zero concessions or improvements from the previous CBA, other than a little more revenue sharing and perhaps some more fringe benefits like single hotel rooms?

(I should note that sources quoted throughout "The Instigator" depict Bettman and Goodenow each as incredibly full of his own highly inflated view of himself.)

To be sure, the owners can outlast the players if they really want to. It's the nature of the beast: Since their bodies do not put their ownership in decline (outside of death), the owners can afford to wait longer than the players can.

But you'd think diminishing returns would come into play, and you'd think the owners would have at least one meaningful concession in mind to show the players they're sincerely negotiating.

Instead, you get the sense the NHL feels no compulsion to offer anything other than "concessions" from their initial shoot-the-moon proposal. "We're done making proposals," Bill Daly told Chris Botta yesterday.

Part of me -- perhaps my most cynical yet optimistic side -- thinks Bettman isn't really ready to lose this entire season, and has a drop-dead date in mind, and he'll come around once that date arrives.

Under this scenario, Bettman has secured his 50/50 revenue split, so the across-the-board changes to contract rights -- allegedly "very, very important to the clubs" -- are just a ruse to hope the union breaks before the NHL's own internal drop-dead date.

But the other part of me -- the part that believes the NHL is an incompetently run disaster that doesn't deserve a cent of your money and wouldn't get any of it if not for nostalgia -- fears Bettman "doesn't think he has to do anything because he doesn't think there is a snowball's chance in hell that the players will hang together."

If the latter is true, I can only dream he goes the way of Goodenow.