Gary Bettman made his most interesting proposal of the 2012 NHL lockout when he suggested this week that negotiations should be conducted by the players and owners alone. On the one hand, he’s right; Gary Bettman and NHLPA brass have impeded progress and the season is in jeopardy because of their collective inability to negotiate. Perhaps removing them from the process would help move negotiations forward.
On the other side, this proposal is an absolute disaster for a desperate sport. Where is the leadership in hockey that all other sports have in abundance? Gary Bettman risks carving out a legacy as the commissioner that watched over the league through two lost seasons if a new CBA agreement cannot be reached soon. The idea that he should be removed from negotiation efforts only furthers the notion that Bettman is a detriment to hockey.
When the NFL faced a lockout last year, Roger Goodell worked long hours to bring the two sides together. Reason prevailed and no games were lost. The NBA faced similar issues and were expected to lose the season, but again an agreement was eventually reached. Strong leadership found a resolution in the two other major sports facing CBA issues, but the NHL lacks direction. Because Gary Bettman is a poor leader, lost seasons have become a regular threat to the stability of the NHL.
The idea of removing leadership from the negotiation process is essentially an admission of guilt. Gary Bettman feels that negotiations would move forward more effectively without him. Because Bettman and the NHLPA leaders are on a path towards a lost 2012-13 NHL season, perhaps negotiations led by the players and owners could be effective. Still, it is a shame that the NHL lacks leadership capable of finding resolutions and preserving the game for its fans.
In the end, Gary Bettman got it right. He has no place in negotiations because he is an inept leader, unaware of the best direction for hockey. Expansion has failed, a controversial TV deal with NBC over ESPN has done little to grow the sport, rule changes have made hockey more dangerous than ever, and the 2012 NHL Lockout threatens the stability of the league.
In fact, why not take Gary Bettman’s latest proposal a step further in the wake of failed mediation efforts? Perhaps the NHL should simply move forward without its commissioner all together, as he’s proven himself a detriment to both the league and this year’s lockout negotiations.