No matter what happens GB/BG must go

Updated: February 11, 2005, 12:26 AM ET
By Adam Proteau | The Hockey News

Here's the thing about our reader e-mail: a decent deal of it comes from minds that function in all caps, and hands rubbed raw from ape mimicry. But we're lucky to have a handful of regulars who ask perfectly valid questions. And the longer this extended root canal of a labor "negotiation" drags on, the more we hear the same question.

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"Hey, fence-sitter guy," many of you have said, "one minute you're ripping the NHLPA for dismissing any evidence that a salary cap causes total loss of bladder control; the next minute, you're blasting Gary Bettman for being to sports commissioners as Ziggy is to Japanimation. So spell it out, already - what do you stand for?"

Well, we've finally decided, and we've decided to de-side. We're done with trying to distinguish Devil from Danny Boy as we watch this crippled frigate glide inside its own Bermuda Triangle, perhaps never to return. To hell with the press conferences, strategically-leaked "exclusives" and spin doctors.

Wake us when the league is over.

Of course, credit for our bitter tone falls squarely in the laps of Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow. But here's a positive worth accentuating: the deeper hockey sinks into a quicksand of legalities, the less likely either big cheese will retain his position when the game attempts to redeem itself. And whether you prefer your costs certain or uncertain, that's the best news any hockey fan can hope for.

Enough is enough with these two. They had a decade to co-produce "Citizen Kane" and the best they could do was "Heaven's Gate." When people talk about the NHL as a $2.1 billion pie, all we see is GB/BG as the, um, pastry fan played by Jason Biggs in "American Pie." Their collective mandate was to grow the game, but their singular focus on funds has delivered it straight to the compost heap. When one said the sky was blue, the other denied the color even existed.

We're certainly not going to blame the players for the disaster they've only recently awoken to; yeah, they've got it pretty good, but they give back pretty good as well, and the physical ailments they invite simply by playing merit whatever amount some rich dope believes they're worth.

And we're not going to fault the owners - at least, not all of them - for the disaster they've emptied their bank accounts into; to build a consistently popular league, one that can't be hijacked by a cadre of overzealous owners a la major league baseball, some form of competitive balance must be in place. They had their butts handed to them in the last labor deal, and they are well within their rights to correct that fact in their favor.

That leaves nobody to never forgive except the two dudes in charge.

We didn't always feel this way. In fact, when the lockout began, we could empathize, on one level or another, with both the commissioner and the union chief. Bettman, after all, answers not to himself, but to the owners; at any point, they could have instructed him to cut their losses and cede enough that the union could save face. Goodenow, meanwhile, has served the players better than the guy before him - although, considering the guy before him was Alan Eagleson, a cheese omelet would have been an improvement; he could easily have realized the owners meant business this time, and strived for a negotiated cap rather than one forced upon the players by a government body.

But that empathy vanished because both sides have done such a peerless job at character assassination, painting their adversaries as insufferable fib artistes whose concern for the game extends only as far as the select few they represent. To their credit, the persistence in smear-jobbery has paid off, because we finally believe them. Both of them.

We're convinced Bettman's inability to improve - or even maintain - the quality of the on-ice product is at the root of the game's problems, financial or otherwise. We're convinced Goodenow undermined the flaccid rules of the previous CBA to drain every last drop from a well most people knew was drying up. We're convinced Bettman's sincerity couldn't come off more insincere if he tried. We're convinced Goodenow staring down his nose at reporters on the street qualifies as the least intimidating attempt at intimidation since Gary Coleman threatened the entire "Surreal Life" cast.

We're convinced Bettman cares about lowering ticket prices as much as Goodenow cares to maintain a 30-team league. We're convinced that if the league and players put 10 percent of their lockout energies into marketing the league properly, they wouldn't be fighting over what promises to be an ever-diminishing return. We're convinced Bettman was spoiling for this fight for an eternity, and Goodenow would have been happy to extend the expired deal for the same period of time.

Most of all, we're convinced that, were GB/BG held to the same standard of performance owners use to judge GMs and coaches by, they'd have been old news even older news ago.

That's why the de-employment of both men has become more necessity than fantasy. Now, no matter what happens to the NHL, both Goodenow and Bettman will forever symbolize regression and polarization. The league can roll out re-launches until its budget is blown to bits, but so long as the suits standing at the podium are the same ones who pushed the league to the precipice of destruction, the stain will remain.

And at this stage, there isn't enough detergent on earth to wipe the stank off of the ones who are in charge now.

E-mail Adam Proteau at aproteau@thehockeynews.com.

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