You don’t have to tell any hockey fans that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is a cabana boy straight from the pits of Hell. We figured that out around the time of the first Wayne Gretzky trade, which sent The Great One to the Los Angeles Kings, catapulting the Kings into their first-ever Stanley Cup Final and creating a very large segment of hockey fans in southern California in the process, people who had started out as curious and onlooking sports fans there because word spread from up north about the athletic prowess of a guy named “Wayne” who was being compared to Michael Jordan in a sport called “hockey.” That fan creation was important; it gave Bettman all the proof he needed to try to expand the league into parts of the United States with no connections to hockey culture, in some cases even removing them from their natural homes in Canada.
There’s no point in going down Bettman’s whole list of offenses. All you need to know about the disaster that is the Bettman NHL is that the most agreed-upon culmination from a fan’s perspective would be three. That’s the number of work stoppages the Bettman Error has turned up. Three times, there ceased to be any hockey. The first time was in the 1995 season, which resulted in a 48-game year. The second was the nasty lockout of 2005, when Bettman became the first league commissioner to ever cancel an entire season. We are currently mired in his third, with one of Bettman’s positive contributions – the Winter Classic – now a victim. That may be the most meaningful casualty because the Winter Classic had actually succeeded in growing the sport and creating a base of casual fans, and even stealing some of college football’s vaunted New Year’s Day thunder.
One of the side effects we don’t hear about very often is the fact that this lockout also appears to have created a hiring freeze. This makes sense; why bring a new body aboard when the money to pay them isn’t rolling in? This apparently doesn’t keep the NHL and various teams from taking applicants and giving interviews anyway.
On Mondays, I attend a networking group, trying to promote myself and my newly-created freelancer business. One of the members of the group said she recently went through a series of interviews for a position which is, at the very least, related to the NHL. She got the call, and was told that she’s the front-running candidate and has all but gotten the position. Unfortunately, for her to actually begin work, the NHL has to have a season first.
That set off a round of disgusted noises which circulated throughout the room. Most of us, being natives and longtime residents among one of the most famously devoted fanbases in the league, were already pissed at Gary Bettman and his cronies for allowing the lockout to happen. For Buffalo, the cancellation of the Sabres is close to a personal issue as it stands. Now the lockout had hit too close to home for comfort. We all let that sink in for a few minutes: One of the people in our group wasn’t being allowed to go to work because her official hiring was being delayed, because the NHL is having another lockout season! To lighten up the situation a little bit, we suggested out groupmate make a quick drop into Toronto and beat up Gary Bettman. She’d probably be safe in doing that, too; if she was caught before making it back across the Peace Bridge, I doubt any jury in Canada would ever convict her.
The 1994 strike in MLB was famously called a case of millionaires against billionaires without the fans mattering. No matter how many times our professional leagues try to cram sports economics down our throats, every league and every players’ association has yet to figure out the common fans all see them as pampered rich people. In their own crossfire, I now learned personally that these greedy people are actually destroying the everyday employees of their organizations. If there aren’t any games, there are a lot of people not getting paid. People whose’ salaries don’t permit them the difference between that new theater wing on their mansion or their monthlong cruise down the South American coast. This lockout how now smacked someone I know. At the very least, I can now cross the league off my potential client list.