I’ve held off on this piece for a bit because, well, there’s a big series going on right now. That said, I couldn’t allow for Herr Bettman’s yearly, rambling spin doctoring speech which he calls the State Of The League address go without giving it proper roasting.
Now I know that some of you may think that the harping on Bettman goes over the top and that’s fine and a fair criticism to which I just ask that he not make it so easy to find ways to hammer him. That said, it’s getting more popular to needle the man as Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy did quite nicely with his piece examining the NHL constitution and bylaws. If you haven’t given that a look over you should because the NHL constitution goes over about as black and white as the rules interpretations do for officials.
No wonder this league is such a mess.
What we’re going to focus on here, however, is Bettman’s May 30th press conference about what he thinks of the league and its many sticky issues and why he’s the kind of lying liar lying about lies that drive us crazy.
If you’ve watched or absorbed sports enough in your life you know that when you get a talk from or an interview with someone involved in the game either they’re going to bore the crap out of you with the standard athlete/coach speak in which they offer up little to nothing informative or interesting.
If you’re dealing with someone in an executive position you’re probably going to get lied to a lot and if you’re on to their game and understand that they’re lying to you to mess with you, it’s fun.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is a superstar at this because he not only flat out lies, he twists reporters in knots with a British comedy-like dry wit in which allows him to both insult and take down a reporter who thinks they’re ahead of the game.
You also have guys like John Tortorella who don’t mind actually taking you down a peg or twelve and believe me, that’s quite the moment to have.
For Gary Bettman though… We know he’s lying, we know what he’s lying about and he thinks he’s being cute with us while others are more than happy to eat up what’s spoonfed by the Lying Mouth That Fails.
Honestly, do you think anyone out there believes it when he says this:
With regard to Phoenix, there has been a lot of commentary on the subject. So let me spend a brief moment on it.
The team was never in jeopardy. It was literally 20 minutes away from being fixed in a way that we thought was going to work quite well, and it’s our view, my view, that the Coyotes should not be in bankruptcy.
Give me a freaking break.
“Literally 20 minutes away from being fixed” – if you believe that I’ve got a
team bridge to sell you.
Considering that the incredibly awful situation in Phoenix has now allowed for the soft underbelly of the NHL to be out in full display opening the door for every crazy canuck with lots of money to come running out to make a claim, how is it possible that the league was that close to righting the ship when they can’t even get out of their own way in the first place?
How difficult would it be for Bettman to be up front from the get-go to say, “Listen, things are in a bad way in Phoenix. Jerry Moyes has come to us with concerns and has asked for the league to help out in finding a buyer for the franchise interested in keeping the team tied to the city.”
At worst, the league takes a hit for playing things parallel to what goes on in corporate America with financially miserable companies getting a taxpayer bailout but at best everyone in the situation comes out looking like they’re trying to do the right thing for everyone concerned. Not only does it allow for everyone to look good, it’s solid PR for the league and for Jerry Moyes.
Instead you get this from the press conference following the State of the Game address:
Q. Publicly you’ve painted a fairly optimistic portrait of Phoenix’s financial health all season, yet court documents relating to the bankruptcy suggest there were some serious issues all year round. How do you imagine it turning around in that market?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: First of all, I know there have been suggestions that either Bill or I have been optimistic. That was not the case. What we’ve always responded to has been the notion that the club was not in any jeopardy. The club’s losses are comparable to what they’ve been.
The City of Glendale is prepared to work with the club in terms of building arrangements. And we believe there are buyers out there who are willing to step up, invest and make it work. This is a club that needs new ownership and a change in management and needs to perform better than it has. As long as there are people prepared to invest in doing that, we think the prospects can be optimistic and should be. At least some of the people that I’ve spoken to believe that it can be turned around and turned around rather quickly by doing a lot of the right things that haven’t been done.
Spin, spin, spin away.
The best part about reading this transcript is that you can see Bettman’s mood change from the start of the press conference to the end of it and he knows that what he’s shoveling isn’t being bought by those in attendance and hey, when you go into one of these things knowing full well that the reporters are going to come at you armed with a litany of hot-button topics you have to think he’d be prepared for this or more media savvy about it.
But it’s great to read an exchange that goes like this:
Q. Having said that, you’ve been in the south now, and your southern expansion, you’ve been 30 teams for, correct me if I’m wrong, 7 or 8 years now – the goal to be to get the big U.S. TV contract. The reward has never come. You don’t have the big TV contract?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Really?
Q. Is there any shelf life on being in these cities where across the board down there you’ve got financial problems. Do you ever pull your horns in on this whole 30?team thing and bring it back a little bit?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: The answer is I don’t agree with your premise. It wasn’t all about just the big TV contract. It was about expanding our footprint and connecting with fans in more places than before. If you count, I don’t have the exact number, but the number of people that have attended games in the new markets since they’ve come into the League goes into the tens of millions. We have a number of Stanley Cup champions and/or finalists who have come from the so?called Sun Belt.
To use your methodology of seven years, I’ll make it 10 or 12 years, that’s a relatively short period of time in the life of a franchise.
We like where we are. And this is not something that you take a snap shot over. We believe that our franchises can all be successful where they’re currently located. And somebody could have asked me the same question that you just asked eight years ago about the Canadian franchises. They could have said; ‘Why do you have any franchises other than Toronto or Montreal?’ eight or ten years ago, because the buildings in all the other places were two?thirds to half empty. And the answer is because that’s where we belong having franchises. We’re working with our fans. And we don’t run out on cities. We try to make it work. I think at this stage to pronounce that our expansion and the places where we are isn’t working is premature.
With respect to television, the television landscape is a lot more complicated than the discussion about it. Taking the year off that we took had an impact on where we are and who had what needs when, and the perceived value of our product.
The fact is we decided coming back to go in a certain direction in the United States. Our ratings are growing very nicely with a partner who is growing with us. And it’s playing out pretty much the way we planned. So if it’s not living up to the standards, perhaps, that you’ve set for these franchises, I apologize. But we think we’re doing okay.
I can picture in my head how Herr Bettman pouted over this and about how no one believes what he says when it comes to just about anything having to do with the league.In fact, I don’t have to imagine it.
I can just look at this and feel a lot better knowing that this is the look on his face.
With regard to what he’s saying about Phoenix, I doubt there will be any deviation in how things go at tomorrow’s hearing in the desert even though the Toronto Star seems to think that Balsillie has a good enough case to win out over the NHL. While we’re talking about super-wealthy rams butting heads here, I doubt that the courts would ever go with someone trying to back-door their way into owning a team and violating the way the league does business.
Then again, you just never know – law is funny that way. For my own greedy purposes, I’d love to see Balsillie win out in court tomorrow. Getting a judge to help me and others across the Internet give the NHL and Bettman the finger is something I pray will happen some day, I just doubt beyond anything else that tomorrow is going to be that day.
Of course, should it break down like that, the NHL already has the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on stand-by ready to smack that down just in case Judge Baum wants to get frisky.
At least the league is always ready with a backup plan.