Last week was one hellish emotional roller coaster for the hockey world. After thinking the lockout would be over by the weekend, things took a sudden 180-degree turn and went back to where they had been. It left everyone confused and angry. We can thank Gary Bettman for that, because he tricked all of us into thinking the end was near.
I’d thought that Bettman would wreck things because he wanted to keep his job, but it only took me a day to realize that I was wrong in my thinking. He’s not interested in keeping his job anymore, because he’s pretty sure no one would dare ask him to resign. At this point, I don’t even think he’s all that interested in salvaging the season. What he wants is to break the union and drive Donald Fehr out of the NHLPA. That was the sole purpose of last week’s meetings.
Bettman has the outcome of the 2004-05 lockout in mind every time he approaches the negotiating table. Back then, the owners got their way by manipulating a divided union and ultimately ran Bob Goodenow out of town on a rail. Four Executive Directors (including two on an interim basis) later, Bettman sees Fehr as his next victim, someone he could bully and break. It’s not working, and it’s frustrating him.
The red flag in that meeting was the owners not wanting Fehr back in the room, calling that a “deal breaker”. Keeping the players separated from their leader would surely lead to the players making decisions Fehr would dislike, which would chip away at their unity. When that tactic didn’t work, the owners walked out of the room and never looked back.
Note the difference between the two men in their post-breakdown press conferences. While Fehr was calm and collected, Bettman was described as “visibly angry” and “shaking”. It didn’t hit me until the next day as to why Bettman was so angry: he wanted to be there first. He wanted to get to the podium before Fehr did to try to paint him in the worst light possible (which he still did) so Fehr would have to answer to his scathing accusations. When Fehr beat him to it, he ruined Bettman’s plans. To add insult to injury, the players are even more unified behind Fehr.
We all fell for Bettman’s false sincerity. After the collapse of what could’ve been the end to an ugly chapter in the NHL’s history, it will be very, very hard to trust him again, if at all.