Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bend it like Bettman

Maybe commish, others not entirely forthright

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Is it just me, or is it getting a little negotiated in here?

With the Phoenix Coyotes still in play, you can't turn on a television, flip through a sports section or troll the Internet without coming across another "sources say" tidbit that screams of one of the players working an angle to negotiate in public.

Sometimes, it's subtle, such as word last weekend that the NHL still hadn't ruled out Kansas City as a possible destination for the Yotes, should the team move at all. This is interesting in that Kansas City hasn't been part of the NHL conversation for about a year. But go figure... as the possibility that the situation in Phoenix became more dire, all of a sudden the NHL "isn't ruling anything out."

Relocation

Smell something? Sure do. Because for weeks the NHL has been painting itself into a corner calling a relocation to Winnipeg a last-ditch, if-all-else-fails option. That's not exactly a bargaining chip if the NHL eventually does have to come crawling to Mark Chipman, is it?

So Bill Daly or some other NHL backroom operative whispers "Kansas City" into a reporter's ear.

And how about Gary Bettman's performance on Hockey Night in Canada? Classic. Here's a guy who for the last couple years has been throwing out Winnipeg as a potential destination at the drop of a helmet. Then when the possibility has never been more real, all of a sudden Bettman plays stupid.

Bettman might as well have told Winnipeg's own Scott Oake during a one-on-one on CBC Tuesday night: "Winnipeg? Is that near Saskatchetoon?"

And did you hear Bettman cite the rebirth of the Chicago Blackhawks -- an Original Six team with decades of storied history and some of the most exciting young players in the game -- as a potential comparison for the Coyotes long-awaited renaissance?

Isn't Gary priceless sometimes? You know, I'd bet there are moments when he actually believes what he's saying. Really.

Meanwhile, the folks at True North are talking about deadlines, looking at their watch like they're late for something.

And the boys at Ice Edge are Twittering and dishing to everybody, as though they have some college frat house bet going about how many times they can Google themselves. Then there's "sources" who warn that Glendale had better not mess with Bettman and finalize a deal to his liking or else.

The former is all about pressuring the NHL to stay in Phoenix or cut bait (tick-tock), the latter is about getting Glendale to capitulate to the NHL's demands. But if those Glendale councilors bend over any further they're going to look like an opening act for Cirque du Soleil. Their tutus are going to split wide open.

All the while, groups like Jerry Reinsdorf's are walking away from the bargaining table. Or are they? Talks are off with Ice Edge. Or are they?

Intriguing

It's all fair and equally intriguing -- especially if you're a Winnipeg hockey fan or news hound. But here's some free advice: Remember, you're being played. We're all being played. It's not that the information is necessarily false, but all those "sources" each have their own agendas -- and that includes the hopelessly hooped city officials in Glendale who have to pucker up and apply lipstick to this pig.

For example, they repeatedly claim that they have to pony up the $25 million "insurance policy" -- now there's stretching the boundaries of semantics -- because otherwise the Jobing.com Arena, built by the city for $180 million, will become a white elephant. Here's a news flash: Jobing.com is already a white elephant.

There are 41 dates taken up by the Coyotes out of 365, and half of those involve crowds well under 10,000. They hold only about two or three concerts a month, and those have the marquee gravitas of the Monkees Reunion Tour (kids, ask your parents).

But the "What Else Can We Do" argument is probably a better political option than putting an AHL team in a $180-million mistake. Geez, True North doesn't have an NHL team and they need that Dustin Hoffman character from Rain Man to count their money.

Again, it's posturing and selling and negotiating thinly disguised as information and the media is a willing conduit. For future reference, however, take note that the more Bettman can't remember the way to Winnipeg, chances are the closer the city is to courting an NHL team.

Bettman isn't a dumb commissioner, but he can play one on TV.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2010 C2

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