Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

When Bettman comes running back, will we hug the little guy?

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When I don't understand something completely or something does not make perfect sense to me, I often employ an analogy as a tool to give myself a different perspective and context with which to view the issue or problem.

In this instance, when asked to give my opinion about the Phoenix Coyotes/Winnipeg Jets situation of late, the best way for me to share my thoughts on the situation has been by looking at it in terms of a dysfunctional relationship.

In my oversimplification, Gary Bettman, met us (Winnipeg) for the first time back in 1993 when he was initially appointed NHL commissioner. After a tumultuous three-year relationship he began to feel constrained and smothered by our small-town scope and sensibilities. He had aspirations of moving to the big time and we were his least productive Canadian mistress.

To be fair, after 17 years in the city (the Jets), they tell me we had gotten a little too comfortable with the relationship we had with the NHL, and started taking him and our membership for granted. When we went out with Gary, we didn't put in the same effort we had at the beginning and he took notice. We were aged and got apathetic and nonchalant.

He had always had aspirations of meeting someone with the sophistication and chic of a big city, who knew a lot of people, had a tan, and told him everything he wanted to hear. We didn't look so good to him anymore and he packed his things and went and started anew in a warmer locale, with someone he thought had more to offer.

It was a time of numerous relationship upheavals, Gary either left for greener pastures or started fresh with American ladies in Atlanta ('97), Phoenix ('96), Carolina ('97), Nashville ('98), Columbus (2000) and Colorado ('95), but there was always something off, something that didn't feel right to the common observer, especially in the cases where he left one city for another. While on paper, Gary and his sublime southern relationships seemed like a perfect match, it didn't make any sense to those that really knew him and what he was looking for.

In fact, over time, Gary discovered that the reasons he left us in the first place were magnified in several of his new relationships. Underneath all the pomp and circumstance it was becoming more and more apparent to all of those who looked on that Gary should never have left us in the first place.

In the 15 years that he was gone, we realized how much we missed him. We started working out again, we got an entirely new wardrobe (the MTS Centre), we hit the proverbial jackpot with all of our investments (Thompson and Chipman), and we were as different as he was since we had last seen each other. Gary had changed, too. He was no longer star struck and all about money since his ugly divorce (NHL lockout), and he signed pre-nuptials (revenue sharing agreements with the NHLPA) with virtually every girl he met going forward.

Yet his relationship in the sunny state of Arizona was an absolute mess. She was spending his money like there was no tomorrow, maxing out his credit cards and extending his credit line, all the while her ex-husband (the Goldwater Institute) was intruding and making things difficult at every opportunity.

For years it was obvious that Gary had made a mistake in leaving us, yet it took just as many years for him to even concede that he would consider getting back together with us. We were everything his American dream wasn't, and all we wanted was a second chance since we had come to realize how much we missed him. We were where Gary belonged and everyone seemed to know it but him.

As much as Arizona was the wrong girl for him in every way imaginable, she either wielded some incredible power and control over him, or he was too proud to admit that he should have never left us in the first place.

We were mature enough and strong enough to recognize that we needed to change in order for this to work out, and we did whatever it took to make him happy. The thing that stings us the most right now, is that when things fell apart with Gary and us 15 years ago, he never tried this hard to salvage our relationship.

It makes you wonder that when he does come running back, pretending he has other options elsewhere and is still someone worth chasing, whether we will forgive him for his initial betrayal or forever hold it against him.

Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 15, 2011 C3

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