Gary Bettman is an advocate. In these negotiations, he serves that role for the owners. Like a lawyer, he doesn’t get the first or last call. If the owners told him tomorrow that they want to keep everything as is, he would convey that offer and that may be the end of the CBA negotiations. To blame Gary Bettman for the NHL owners’ insulting and absurd offer is to blame me for my client’s conduct.[…] One could […] argue that [Bettman’s] opinion influences the owners and he is driving this ship. Perhaps. But when I see 30 very rich men and a handful of those within said 30 who have more fuck you money than they can count, I begin to doubt if little old Bettman calls the shots.
If it turns out to be true that the real battle in this CBA negotiation is not between the owners and the players, but between the big owners and the small owners, then there’s the additional question of who exactly Bettman is representing. Now that I think about it, this might even be the question. The league in its current incarnation, the post-Gretzky expansion into new markets, is entirely Bettman’s vision. (Or that’s what they say, those media types, right?)
It’s possible, of course, that the owners as a whole are just greedy. But let’s say the real problem is that these failing small market or otherwise just badly-run teams that Bettman has spent so much time trying to prop up (e.g. Phoenix, Tampa, Dallas, New Jersey) have entirely different needs than the non-failing teams. Bettman predates numerous owners. Bettman has veto power over new owners. Bettman controls where new franchises can or cannot go and where or if current troubled ones can relocate. I don’t think any owners have a greater stake than Bettman in whether this particular vision of the league works or not. Sure, they want the league to be successful, especially in so far as it benefits their own particular teams. But I don’t think, for example, the Rangers care much whether Phoenix (the Coyotes, not the city) disappears from the face of the earth. That matters to Bettman all by his little own self. And if the small market teams are in real trouble (which they seem to be), then it’s Bettman who has a stake in keeping everything afloat.
Which he can’t do without the cooperation of the big market teams.
And he won’t have their cooperation if they are expected to foot the bill for the small market teams.
So the only way to please the small markets (give us money) and the big markets (don’t take our money) is to get the players to pay for it.
I guess I could have saved some space here and just said — back to Bobby’s post — it’s true that Bettman and the owners are not synonymous; but it’s also true that the owners are not synonymous with each other.
And while I’m thinking about it, it’s also true that Bettman has an interest in preventing even the story of “owners vs. other owners” getting into the news cycle. Because that, in and of itself, makes him look bad. Bobby’s point is, in part, that Bettman isn’t King. But he’s not just an advocate, either, since nobody cares more about the Bettman Legacy than Bettman himself.