Views / He Says

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman gets candid

What follows is an exclusive, in-good-faith, “marathon” interview with Gary Bettman, commissioner of the National Hockey League.

While it’s true the commissioner has been talking to other media throughout the NHL lockout, Mr. Bettman told me some exclusive things — things so striking and unexpected that he may deny ever having talked to me, or, indeed, having heard of me.

NHL insiders say that, using the logic of contract negations, his refusal to acknowledge my existence is a sign our talk went well.

He Says: Mr. Bettman, let’s drop the gloves. What can the league do to win back fans after this lockout, which everybody outside of the players and owners believes was unnecessary and wrong?

Bettman: Well, we’re very fortunate to have great fans in Canada that have nothing else to do in the winter that isn’t illegal. As for Americans, they haven’t noticed yet that we’ve been gone. So don’t tell them, OK?

He Says: Don’t you think this cavalier attitude will only reinforce Canadians’ belief that you don’t care about the fans, delivering a Raffi Torres-like check to the head to our national game?

Bettman: Well, first of all, I don’t know what a Raffi Torres is, but let me say that I’m confident the fans will be back.

He Says: How can you be so sure?

Bettman: If you read news reports from after the last lockout, you see headlines like: “Hockey: Does anyone still care?” next to headlines like, “Maple Leafs’ second-unit penalty kill needs tweaking or heads will roll.”

He Says: I see your point. But the NHL game was, before The Lockout: Part 2, at the height of its popularity. The hockey was faster, the women behind the benches were hotter, and mentions in late-night comedy monologues were at an all-time low. How did you kill all that momentum?

Bettman: You have to understand that there’s been a huge philosophical divide between each side.

He Says: I noticed that in the various proposals. The players said the repeating lockout was an example of Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence, while you adhered to the deconstructionism of Jacques Derrida, refusing to make whole.

Bettman: We spent one meeting talking about whether contract negotiations really mean anything in a cold, uncaring universe. We found a lot of common ground there. But that’s not what I meant. What I meant is that we have a different attitude than the players, because we don’t care what people think of us.

He Says: That’s refreshingly honest.

Bettman: The players will always be at a disadvantage in contract negotiations, because they’re heroes, betraying their fans. But the management don’t have to be heroes. No Canadian kid says, “I want to be an owner.” Or commissioner. Keep it under your helmet, but I’m not very popular.

He Says: Your secret’s safe with me. I want to thank you for your candour, Mr. Bettman. And remember, keep your stick on the ice.

Bettman: I’m sorry, what?

He Says: Uh, just forget it.

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