Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Cross Checks [Print without images]

Wednesday, January 9, 2013
BOG's grumblings not sign Bettman is out

By Pierre LeBrun



NEW YORK -- Gary Bettman got his deal passed with flying colors, got a rousing backing from the chairman of the board, then said sorry to fans and players.

All in all, a tidy little day for the NHL commissioner.

There was grumbling from some ownership corners before this meeting that some teams were unhappy with the tentative agreement reached with players.

There were some who wondered if there might be a few "no" votes.

Try 30-0 on the "yes" side. As unanimous as can be.

"It was actually a real good mood in there today," one veteran NHL governor said.

Chairman of the NHL Board of Governors and Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs released a statement after the ratification vote expressing his support for Bettman.

"The Board today also expressed its appreciation for the professionalism and commitment, to our clubs and to the sport that commissioner Bettman and deputy commissioner [Bill] Daly displayed throughout this difficult period. ... Gary and Bill have the complete and unconditional support of the board -- and our gratitude.”

But don’t get totally fooled here. There is nevertheless some unhappiness with this CBA.

"Don’t confuse a 30-0 vote with every single owner being happy, because that’s just not true," one NHL owner told ESPN.com after the meeting. "For the smaller-market teams, this wasn’t the deal we had envisioned."

Bettman said that he told owners collective bargaining isn’t a perfect science, that you don’t get everything you want. And he’s certainly right on that.

The question is whether he got enough of what the owners wanted. That’s where owners have varying opinions.

But a leadership change? That’s far-fetched at this point. I don’t see it.

"No one’s saying we want change at the top, that’s not the case. But perhaps we want change in how things are done," an NHL team executive said.

I asked the commissioner about his future during his news conference Wednesday, citing some of the grumbling and whispers.

“It’s nothing more than speculation and it’s nothing more than unfounded speculation," Bettman said. "I’m looking forward to continuing to grow this game, both on and off the ice as we have over the last 20 years. I think the opportunities are great and I’m glad to be a part of them.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if Bettman saw through this entire 10-year CBA as commissioner, or at least a big chunk of it. I know it matters to him to be around for the NHL’s 100-year anniversary in 2017.

Yes, there are some unhappy owners right now, but Bettman is brilliant at navigating those waters. He’s got an uncanny ability at steering around these brush fires. And as some of the media already have written the past few days, Bettman has always proven a better peace-time leader than a war-time general. His performance in growing the game during labor peace -- look at soaring revenues over the years -- is in stark contrast to the flak he’s taken for his three lockouts.

The key now for the success of this league -- and by definition Bettman’s future success -- is to unleash NHL COO John Collins with no strings attached.

Collins, the No. 3 man in the NHL hierarchy and an absolute superstar when it comes to marketing and selling the game, has his work cut out for him after the damage this lockout caused with sponsors and fans.

The man who drew up the Winter Classic and brought us HBO’s "24/7" will be pressed hard to work his magic again.

Collins also made remarks to owners near the end of Wednesday’s meeting, sharing his early plan on how he’s going to try and win back fans.

Of course, we’re assuming Collins will stick around. There had been rumors during the lockout that he might jump ship, something he denied to ESPN.com at the time.

The NHL needed him after the previous lockout. They need him now more than ever. So does the commissioner.