In an impassioned editorial that pulls no punches, Montreal Gazette sportswriter Jack Todd has declared that “Americans and Gary Bettman have stolen Canada’s game.” Noting that the NHL moved its offices from Montreal to New York City in 1989, Todd contends that “when the energetic, control freak Bettman took over, all the power shifted south of the border,” and yet they’re counting on the passion of stupid Leafs fans, erm, Canadians of all stripes to bring the league back from the brink again after locking out the players for the second time in seven years. According to Todd, “Bettman is throwing a lockout because he can, it’s that simple. It’s happening because of the bully-boy tactics of Bettman himself, backed by a coterie of ideology-driven right-wing U.S. billionaires who are in this not because they love the game, but because they love money and attention.” He probably has a point.
Let’s face it, why would the league keep throwing money at Phoenix, a city that doesn’t even have ice in winter, while steadfastly resisting bringing a team back to Winnipeg until the Atlanta Thrashers (another city with no natural interest in hockey) were about to go belly-up? As Todd so eloquently puts it, “Bettman [is] a little man with a huge ego who would rather destroy the league than lose.”
But as we get set for another season without our great game, is anyone really winning? I suppose the multi-bazillionaire owners are quite content not to lose any money on their hockey teams this year, and as the last labour shortage showed, the players will eventually give in if you take away their livelihoods long enough. But it’s the fans, who couldn’t give a flying toss whether the players earn 44 or 64 per cent of league revenues, who suffer most. I especially feel sorry for the L.A. Kings fans who’ll be deprived of a full season of championship-caliber hockey; as a Flames fan, I can certainly relate. (The Flames were the true winners of the ’04 Stanley Cup, and would’ve taken home the hardware were it not for a vast conspiracy between goal judges, referees and replay officials—but don’t get me started…) That said, if I lived in L.A., I’d already be applying for season’s tickets for next season, preferably within sight of Taylor Stevens’ seat. But Jack Todd would not be pleased.
“Don’t buy NHL merchandise, don’t buy tickets, don’t watch on television. You don’t have to do it forever — just stay away for a year or two. Make sure the NHL takes a significant financial hit for the sins of Bettman,” he suggests. And hey, if someone were to drive a maple syrup truck into the NHL’s office on the Avenue of the Americas just as the commissioner stepped out for a smoke break, I’m sure Todd wouldn’t shed any tears, either.