NHL lockout: Is Gary Bettman's job on the line with these negotiations?

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com
Gary Bettman is presiding over the third lockout of his tenure. (Getty Images)

There is no bigger lightning rod in the NHL than Gary Bettman, even if Jeremy Jacobs is trying to catch him. The mere mention of his name to hockey fans will either result in a vociferous BOOOOO right in your face or a 15-minute rant you didn't anticipate.

In short, he is the most loathed man in hockey. He has drawn considerably more flak these last few months as the NHL has entered the land of the lockouts once again, the third time under Bettman's reign as NHL commissioner.

The result is that some people have speculated, many others have hoped, that this lockout could be it for Bettman as commissioner. Nobody is happy about missing another season (if they don't miss the whole season they have already missed a good chunk of this one) and the owners will be especially unhappy if they don't get a deal that works well for them.

That's the line of thinking of Barry Rozner of the Daily Herald.

See, Bettman promised seven or eight owners that he could get another lopsided deal. If he doesn't get it after losing a billion dollars in league revenue, he's probably out of a job.

So Bettman is holding up the game to save himself, and one imagines he's still convincing a small group of men that he can squeeze more from the players. That small group of owners, in turn, is keeping the arenas silent.

With that, all hockey fans got down on their hands and knees to pray to the hockey gods. From Rozner's keyboard to the gods' ears, right?

While the idea is tantalizing to tortured hockey fans who feel like they're stuck under Tyranny-saurous Betts (OK, I will never use that line again), I'm not so sure it would actually be the case. There just doesn't seem to be a big enough appetite to toss Bettman overboard.

Like him or not, Bettman is mostly good for the people he works for; the owners. Remember, he does what he's told by the owners who have the influence -- those are the guys that are on the negotiating committee; (Bruins owner) Jeremy Jacobs, (Wild owner) Craig Leipold, (Capitals owner) Ted Leonsis and (Flames owner) Murray Edwards. They, particularly Jacobs, want a hard-line to be toed. He does what they want. Of course he has some of his own say, but it's not as if Bettman is going after his own goals against the wishes of all 30 owners. If that were the case, they would vote against him and that would be that.

In his time as commissioner, Bettman has made numerous owners a lot of money. The revenues have expanded greatly (inflation helps that but it's not the only cause) and he fights for the owners. Of course you have some who aren't in favor of what he's doing, but it's only some. As Bettman knows all too well, you can't please them all.

Overall, though, Bettman is good for the owners, they are about the only people that seem to have his back. Coincidentally, they're also the only people with any real influence on his future. An NHL source told CBSSports.com that the owners in general think well of Bettman, the feeling among the ownership circles isn't like it is among the fan or player circles. Put another way, he's awful from a fan perspective because he seems like the bad guy -- and by no means am I not saying he doesn't carry some of the blame -- but his job is to fight for the owners and that's what he does. Very well, too.

By getting the players to more or less agree to a 50/50 split already, that's $231 million in that he has clawed back based on last year's hockey-related revenue pot. Spread that out among the owners and that's $7.7 million they have gained on that concession alone.

Let's play with the numbers a bit. Assume the entire season is lost, put the HRR at a direct 50/50 split and keep the revenue at exactly the same number ($3.3 billion) over a five-year deal (the revenue will probably be lower the first few years but will likely come back up and average out around the same). That means each team will get $38.5 million more in the next five years than they would have here. Considering that only the big-market teams (as in Toronto, the Rangers and Canadiens) make that much in a year, the owners are going to win in the long run. It's the individual players who are hurt the most by missing a full season and fighting for percentage points.

That's why it's hard to buy the fact that Bettman's job is on the line with these negotiations. Put it in whatever words you want but there is no way the NHL is going to "lose" this negotiating session. It is getting from the players, not giving to them in any regard. It's just a matter of how much can the NHL take.

I don't think anybody realistically expected Bettman to get better than a 50 percent split of the HRR for the owners. To assume anything beyond that would have been foolish. Unless they hit a complete standstill and the negotiations go to hell, he's already got the 50/50 split. The owners obviously care about the other issues too, but, at the end of the day, the money speaks the most and getting that goal in the 50/50 split means more or less a job done -- if not well-done, at least done.

Remember something rather critical here; Bettman has the position of power in terms of keeping his job. It is set up to where he needs only eight owners on his side to keep him in place -- the same eight-owner limit applies to ratifying/rejecting a CBA deal. Even if some don't like him, and there must be some (ahem, James Dolan), that's not enough.

Hockey fans can dream that this will be it for Bettman, but I certainly wouldn't expect it. Sure, he could surprise everybody and step down after the negotiations, but with an $8-million salary, that's also on the do-not-expect list.

What is at stake now is Bettman's legacy. Or was. That ship has probably already sailed, it's hard to imagine it's going to change much at this point. Bettman has overseen three lockouts but he has also ushered in a new era of prosperity for the league.

If it were up to the fans, this lockout would be the last straw for Bettman as the commissioner -- if he hadn't already used that last straw many years ago, that is. But it's not up to the fans and at this point there's really no way that Bettman doesn't win these negotiations. Sure, some will see the lost games this year and measure it against the spoils of the lockout negotiations, but, in the end, it will be very hard for the owners to lose these negotiations to the point that it can't really be done, so Bettman probably doesn't lose his job either.

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