Thursday, June 28, 2007

THE DAY BETTMAN BLEW IT

Now it's all out there. Every irrational gut feeling, every teeth-grinding, fist-clenching angry rumbling that Canadians and a good many sympathizers south of the border have had toward NHL commissioner-for-life Gary Bettman, Bill Daly and the usual gang of idiots down on Madison Ave. is totally legit.

Honestly, it always felt like most hockey fans took a dislike to Bettman on sight when he took office in 1993 and never had a real reason to dislike him. He was the basketball guy, nothing wrong with that. Most never gave him a chance, but pushing aside Jim Balsillie, Hamilton and Southern Ontario for a lesser offer for the Nashville Predators from William (Boots) DelBiaggio and Kansas City, Missouri -- where the late, unlamented Scouts relocated during a commercial break in 1976 and no one noticed -- tears the lid right off the jar. Everything you feared about Bettman and his ilk is true, kind of like with Dick Cheney.

The people in Hamilton -- jilted by the NHL how many times now? -- should clear the store shelves of all NHL merchandise and dump it into Hamilton Harbour. Dump it into the Red River in Winnipeg and the St. Lawrence in Quebec City. While we're at it, let's do it it in each of the Canadian NHL cities too, since what Bettman has done is send a giant eff-you to the country where the game matters most.

In the words of an old Seinfeld episode, "Let's get this straight -- you held out, for less money." Balsillie anted up $220-$238 million U.S. for the Predators, plus possible indemnity payments to the Leafs and Buffalo Sabres and the costs of a new arena to replace Copps Coliseum a few years down the road. DelBiaggio puts up $190 million and he's apparently going to get the team, in a city where the NBA and NHL have each failed.

James Mirtle puts it best: "Even insane funds, it seems, aren't enough to knock some sense into the NHL."

How can anyone in Canada support this league without feeling a little guilty or indulging a screw-you, I-got-mine attitude? Is it reasonable to wonder how much, if it all, the Canadian teams, particularly the two based in Ontario, played a a part in greasing the skids? The Leafs might not have a lot of pull, but their wariness of competition in the Southern Ontario market is well-established. Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, understandably, has his own interests to look after with respect to broadcast territory.

Maybe so, maybe not. At the end of the day, there is Bettman, always. The man with a Napoleon complex broke out the dynamite to blow up the best hockey story in years, just to flex his muscles. Take that, BlackBerry boy and all you bumpkins from Canada! Meantime, for anyone who thinks Balsillie was too ballsy, get some sense: God forbid that someone who's made tens of millions of dollars should carry himself with confidence when confronted by a bunch of dopes in suits bent on busting the NHL down to a bus league.

How else can you feel about Gary Bettman after seeing the dream die, after seeing the NHL once again fail to get it that the Golden Horseshoe, Canada's most populous region, could easily support two NHL teams? The Predators in Hamilton would have breathed some life into a flatlining Toronto hockey scene, forced those among us who realize the blue-and-white is for eternity to justify our support of a team that hasn't played for the Stanley Cup since my mom and dad were Grade 9 students. It was exciting just to think the NHL had come down with a strain of common sense.

Instead Bettman gets to keep his dream of American expansion. To paraphrase from Knocked Up, this summer's hit comedy, he's living his vision, and that's just sad.

You know how they have the Subway Series in baseball with the Mets and Yankees? Well, this would have been something similar for hockey, something unprecedented in Canadian sport. Oh no, we couldn't have that sort of thing, not on Gary Bettman's watch. Kansas City, here we come.

(Co-Blogger Neil Acharya, incidentally, deserves much of the credit for shaping this post.)

Related:
Balsillie gets the Boots (James Mirtle)
Motion ends for Balsillie's bid (Canadian Press)

That's all for now. Send your thoughts to neatesager@yahoo.ca.

9 comments:

Dan R. said...

This whole thing stinks, not least of which because my sister is about to move to the Hammer for a few years and I would have something to do when I went to visit her. But seriously, have you seen Bob McKenzie's rant on TSN.ca? He's finally lost it. All that time hanging around Pierre McGuire and Darren Dreger has driven him crazy. The post also proves conclusively that TSN.ca has no one copy editing or editing for content. Some other sort of serious points:
1) Does anyone else think that the Leafs and the Sabres billionaire owner, whose name escapes me, might help Mr. Leipold make up the difference between the offers by Balsillie and Boots? It could be like a reverse indemnification payment.
2) The Bettman-Cheney comparison is so apt and very brilliant. Like Cheney and the Bush cabinet, I have no doubt that Bettman is the most clever and perhaps most devious person in the room at NHL Board of Governors meetings.
3) I'm not ready to break up with the NHL yet, but we might take some time off.

Anonymous said...

Everyone needs to join and get active on this site:

http://www.FireBettman.com

!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I wish we Canadians could get together and put pressure on that bald f*(& bettman. I am so mad right now. I wish he was man enough to admit he is wrong and that someone would take him to court and nail his a(( to a wall. Are we going to just roll over and take it. F&*(O him.

beingbobbyorr said...

Are you people really this naive? The whole soap opera being played out in the media right now is designed to get everyone what they want: the Nashville owner will eventually get to sell his team to a KC-friendly owner, Bettman won't have to witness the embarrasment of watching a US team move to Canada (defeating his vision of a TV-friendly US footprint), and Hamilton will get an expansion franchise in a year or so.

Balsillie's offer for the Predators is purely for show: to increase franchise values and demonstrate the viability of another NHL team for So. Ontario. His offer was never meant to be accepted. This is a businessman's version of pro wrestling: the script was written behind closed doors in the NHL boardroom, and fans and media are eating it up.

sager said...

That's one theory among many, Bobby and an interesting one. If it's all for show, they seem to be expending an awful lot of energy on it.

Balsillie's lawyer also specializes in the "hostile takeover." He would rather get an established club than an expansion team that would take years to get on their feet competitively.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am a new reader but I post frequently on the Business of Hockey boards and on Tom Benjamin's board.

I think you may be under a bit of a misapprehension. Richard Rodier is not a "hostile takeover" lawyer. He is a banking lawyer who has probably worked on a few (very few) deals acting on behalf of lending institutions for takeover loans. To be quite honest, he works for a relatively lower tier Bay Street firm that has very little corporate profile. Gardiner Roberts has a very strong profile in health law, but they have no real presence whatsoever in mergers and acquisitions (to say nothing of competition law, which is another area of relevance in this file). As I have posted elsewhere, his presence as Balsillie's counsel has frankly raised my eyebrow quite a bit. McCarthy Tetrault is RIM's counsel of choice, along with a few others.

I had thought that perhaps Rodier might have migrated to Gardiner Roberts from one of the larger megafirms and was effectively a one man band at that firm. As it turns out, Rodier has shuffled through a number of small to midsize firms - hardly fitting the possible description above.

That is not to say that he is not a fine lawyer; he may be, for all I know (although Balsillie's dubious tactics do not indicate the presence of any sound legal strategy). I can tell you, however, that he is not a player in that league and is certainly not a "hostile takeover lawyer".

sager said...

Duly noted... but it's been written of him that he dabbles in that area. "Specializes" is a poor wording on my part, oops.

Gerald Carpenter said...

Not to quibble too much, but "dabbles" is not really an accurat term either. By his own description, the guy has done a few financings involving hostile takeovers. That means he is the guy who puts together the loan documentation for the bank (much like any other loan documentation). He is not a guy who represents acquirers or targets.

sager said...

Well, the National Post reported it that way. Perhaps you should also talk to them about striving to be more accurate with their reporting.