When the NHL and the NHLPA announced they had finally reached an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement back in July 2005, after a 309-day lockout wiped out an entire season, commissioner Gary Bettman and players’ association boss Bob Goodenow sat together at a press conference to announce the details.
Bettman said he was there “to congratulate … all the NHL players, the greatest athletes in the world, for the incredible job and effort that they put out to help achieve this result. We stand here at a point where we can now together look forward in partnership to take our great game to spectacular heights. We can do it for the good of the game, and most importantly for our fans.”
Seven years later, the NHL finds itself back in the same situation, but with Goodenow no longer in the picture for the NHLPA, replaced by Donald Fehr.
Below is a column The Gazette’s Red Fisher wrote about the 2005 press conference. It’s very interesting to read it again now:
PUBLISHED ON JULY 22, 2005
So what else did you expect from the finale to this 309-day lockout, eh? Apologies to fans, maybe? Perhaps a tip of the cap (no pun intended) to the hundreds of people who lost jobs and to those many businesses that suffered terribly during the lockout? An admission that it should never, never, never have been allowed to happen? That both sides shared the blame for the first cancellation of a season in the history of pro sport?
Instead, there sat Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow yesterday, wearing their best suits and faces of stone, trying to convince their national television audience this new collective agreement was the start of something new and wonderful for a game that will bear the scars of this amateur hour for years to come. No smiles. No self-blame. Ain’t life grand?
“I’d like to thank all the members of the negotiating committee who are here today for their dedication and hard work,” said union chief Goodenow, reading from a prepared statement. “The process has been long and challenging, and I know that the membership appreciates the time and effort that has been put into the negotiation process.
“We’re fully committed to the new deal and we anticipate great success for the game as we go forward. Most importantly, I want to thank the fans for their patience through a winter with no hockey. We pledge our full commitment to you as we go forward.”
On his part, Gary Bettman said he was there “to congratulate … all the NHL players, the greatest athletes in the world, for the incredible job and effort that they put out to help achieve this result.
“We stand here at a point where we can now together look forward in partnership to take our great game to spectacular heights. We can do it for the good of the game, and most importantly for our fans.”
Do not, for even a minute, think that anything good has evolved from this comedy of errors, even though some players, who months ago vowed they had given up as much as they would, eventually caved in for much less. Now, they’ve taken a 180-degree turn with the explanation that the deal is much better. No matter what spin they now try to put on it, how can anybody believe them – from the top down? Don’t believe they care for the people they stabbed in the back. Don’t believe that a blizzard of new rules will make the game better when the players return to the ice. How can you think of accepting anything that was said and promised yesterday after being fed so many lies for nearly a year?
Shame on Bettman and Goodenow. Shame on the players.
Is this new deal the dawn of a great new era for the NHL?
Here are 700 players who will be going into a new season with with a deal calling for a salary cap, a 24-per-cent rollback in salaries and a near-certainty that money they will be putting into escrow will take another substantial bite out of their take-home pay.
They are being told that new rules will open up the game and, as Bettman put it, take it to “spectacular heights.” Bolshoi!
Am I the only one who feels the game started going south from the moment the two-referee rule was introduced? Remember the toe-in-the-crease rule dedicated to protecting goaltenders? How long did that last?
Now, as if goaltending isn’t difficult enough, the size of their equipment has been reduced to dangerous measurements. The red line is on the way out and if that doesn’t do it, is the blue line next to go?
This may come as news to the giant intellects who decided that these new rules are necessary, but I have it on good authority that for decades, The Game somehow managed to remain an exciting and entertaining spectacle working with the same set of rules. How did Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux manage to put all those numbers on the board under the old system? Bobby Orr? Maurice Richard? Jean Beliveau? Bobby Hull? Mike Bossy? Guy Lafleur? Phil Esposito? So many others?
“From our standpoint, we believe that the agreement will give 30 stable, healthy, competitive teams and that the fans in all of our markets will have every opporltunity to think they have a shot at winning the cup,” Bettman said yesterday, and you can take it to the bank he’ll be saying the same thing when the board of governors ratifies the agreement today.
There is no question the owners needed a new economic system, even though they have only themselves to blame for the one, which they renewed twice, that led to the loss of a season. Their problems were self-inflicted. You don’t have to be reminded that the last agreement included a salary cap for entry-level players, a small victory for the owners, yet it was they who agreed to an astonishing bonus system that provided rookies with many more millions almost without trying.
Know something? Even though the salary cap for rookies has been reduced, even though all of the players are going into 2005-06 with a salary cap and the rollback in player salaries, some of the owners will find a way to sweeten the pot. Bet on it.
Do not include me among those surprised that Goodenow and Bettman yesterday made it abundantly clear they plan to remain in their posts despite the thunderbolts they flung at one another for many months of the impasse. And you had to like the reply Bettman delivered when one of the media wretches suggested that the commish and Goodenow didn’t really get along.
“You know, I think there’s too much made about a fragmented relationship,” he said. “It tends to make interesting reading, but Bob and I have always had a professional relationship. On a personal level, we’ve never had a problem dealing with each other. There won’t be any change in that. I have no doubt labour and management can work together for the benefit of the game and the fans in an unprecedented way.”
I ask you: has Gary ever lied to before?
(Photo by Chris Young/Canadian Press)