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Wednesday, December 1, 2004
Updated: December 2, 7:34 PM ET
Saskin: Bettman wrong man to lead NHL

Associated Press

CALGARY, Alberta -- Bitter sniping between the NHL players union and commissioner Gary Bettman hit a low point Wednesday, with an NHLPA senior director saying Bettman is the wrong man to lead the league.

Bettman retorted that the union's rhetoric was getting desperate as the NHL lockout drags on.

Gary Bettman
As commissioner, Bettman has found himself to be a lightning rod.

"I don't mind being the whipping boy if this gets us closer to the right result," Bettman said after meeting with Calgary Flames staff and season ticket holders.

In a radio interview with The Score in Toronto, Ted Saskin of the NHLPA said that Bettman is not respected by the players.

"Certainly not now," Saskin said.

Asked if Bettman is the right man to run the NHL, Saskin replied, "Not from what I've seen."

Bettman said he wasn't surprised.

"We're finally getting to the stage where the union is resorting to personal attacks, a very common practice in collective bargaining when a union isn't getting what it wants," said Bettman. "If the union is indeed saying that, those would seem to be desperate words."

Saskin said Bettman has put forth a proposal to get rid of guaranteed contracts. The union spokesman said he believed Bettman was trying to go too far, too fast.

"That's an interesting comment, because we went to the union in 1999 and begged them to begin addressing our problems," Bettman said. "If the union was looking for a moderated, mitigated, phased-in approach, we could have been doing that for the last few years."

Bettman repeated his message that a deal giving parity to the league's 30 teams is essential for small-market clubs such as the Flames or the Edmonton Oilers who can't afford to compete with the wealthier big-market teams for players.

"We're trying to forge a partnership; unfortunately the union is trying to bargain by confrontation," he said.

Flames president Ken King said although his team posted a profit following its dream ride to the Stanley Cup finals, the business reality is it came after seven years of missing the playoffs partly because of not having enough money to put together a competitive team.

"Our ability to take a year that was an anomaly out of the last 10 and build a base of business to go forward, planning on that is just not possible," said King.

"Nobody on the planet wants to play hockey more than the Calgary Flames, coming off the spring of 2004," he said. "We would love nothing less than to get ourselves mired in the same muck that we went through for seven long, tired years. The damage to us in those years is far more arduous that the damage we may incur trying to fix it."

Flames owners are forecasting losses of $5 to $7 million if the entire 2004-05 season is wiped out.

Bettman said no "drop dead" date has been set that would cancel the season.