Saskin: Bettman wrong man to lead NHL


CALGARY, Alberta -- Bitter sniping between the NHL players
union and commissioner Gary Bettman hit a low point Wednesday, with
an NHLPA senior director saying Bettman is the wrong man to lead
the league.

Bettman retorted that the union's rhetoric was getting desperate
as the NHL lockout drags on.

"I don't mind being the whipping boy if this gets us closer to
the right result," Bettman said after meeting with Calgary Flames
staff and season ticket holders.

In a radio interview with The Score in
Toronto, Ted Saskin of the NHLPA said that Bettman is not respected by the players.

"Certainly not now," Saskin said.

Asked if Bettman is the right man to run the NHL, Saskin
replied, "Not from what I've seen."

Bettman said he wasn't surprised.

"We're finally getting to the stage where the union is
resorting to personal attacks, a very common practice in collective
bargaining when a union isn't getting what it wants," said
Bettman. "If the union is indeed saying that, those would seem to
be desperate words."

Saskin said Bettman has put forth a proposal to get rid of
guaranteed contracts. The union spokesman said he believed Bettman
was trying to go too far, too fast.

"That's an interesting comment, because we went to the union in
1999 and begged them to begin addressing our problems," Bettman
said. "If the union was looking for a moderated, mitigated,
phased-in approach, we could have been doing that for the last few

Bettman repeated his message that a deal giving parity to the
league's 30 teams is essential for small-market clubs such as the
Flames or the Edmonton Oilers who can't afford to compete with the
wealthier big-market teams for players.

"We're trying to forge a partnership; unfortunately the union
is trying to bargain by confrontation," he said.

Flames president Ken King said although his team posted a profit
following its dream ride to the Stanley Cup finals, the business
reality is it came after seven years of missing the playoffs partly
because of not having enough money to put together a competitive

"Our ability to take a year that was an anomaly out of the last
10 and build a base of business to go forward, planning on that is
just not possible," said King.

"Nobody on the planet wants to play hockey more than the
Calgary Flames, coming off the spring of 2004," he said. "We
would love nothing less than to get ourselves mired in the same
muck that we went through for seven long, tired years. The damage
to us in those years is far more arduous that the damage we may
incur trying to fix it."

Flames owners are forecasting losses of $5 to $7 million if the
entire 2004-05 season is wiped out.

Bettman said no "drop dead" date has been set that would
cancel the season.