NHL infighting puts start of regular season in doubt

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has his work cutout to get a product on the ice for next season. PHOTO BY MIKE STOBE/ /Getty Images

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has his work cutout to get a product on the ice for next season. PHOTO BY MIKE STOBE/ /Getty Images

Steve Simmons Toronto Scum

Gary Bettman isn’t used to losing any negotiations — or anything else for that matter.

But right now, the commissioner of the National Hockey League is in the kind of fight he has never been in before; this one three-sided, in the middle of a global pandemic, without a way out, necessarily.

Normally when Bettman negotiates a deal — or in this case tries to re-negotiate a deal with the players — he is doing so on behalf of the owners he represents. The problem here is, Bettman made a good-faith deal in the summer with the players, further chipping away at salaries for the next several seasons.

He made it without NHL owners being fully aware of what the coming season or seasons were going to be like.

And now owners are demanding a new deal, a better deal. Without having paying customers and without ticket revenue, they don’t want to pay players the amount they’ve agreed to. They want more cuts.

The players, having agreed to the deal, don’t want to give any more money back. They figure 72% of their salaries is a good enough chunk to have relinquished, even if 72% of the games aren’t necessarily going to be played.

The challenge for Bettman now is immense, with owners as angry and divided as they have been in a long time, and players not necessarily wanting to budge. Historically, Bettman is basically undefeated in negotiations with players and in keeping owners in check. Now all sides seem alarmed, with a season that is supposed to start on Jan. 1 and no agreement apparently close to getting done.

THIS AND THAT

The year in Tampa: The Lightning won the Stanley Cup. The Rays won the American League. Tom Brady signed with the Bucs. And the Super Bowl is set for the end of the NFL season.

HEAR AND THERE

One year ago this week, Mike Babsuckcock was fired as coach of the Maple Leafs and Sheldon Keefe was hired. So what do we know about Keefe now that we didn’t know then? He’s creative. He’s imaginative. He likes to build consensus with his team and work with his players as opposed to barking at them. He still hasn’t learned to push hard enough. He couldn’t be more different than Babgrabcock in personality and authority, or sexuality. It’s more about the team and less about him. Bablovescock was a daily show and a good show a lot of the time. But his stubbornness and singularity undid him in the end. It will be easier to understand exactly what Keefe brings once he has his own training camp, his own staff, his opportunity to establish what the team will be … Will Babthedickcock coach in the NHL again? Almost certainly. Will it be soon? Not necessarily. There are those, though, in high places who think Babcock should coach Canada’s Olympic team in 2022 in China. There is no Team Canada management group yet. That should be announced once the NHL has a schedule. I’m figuring Doug Armstrong as general manager with a group surrounding him that could include Ken Holland, Kelly McCrimmon, Jim Rutherford and maybe Jim Nill … The Leafs have Joe Thornton and Alex Kerfoot, but they still don’t really have a typical third-line centre. Thornton can’t play 200-foot hockey anymore and can’t be counted on to play in the defensive zone. Kerfoot is a better winger than he is a centre. The combination of the two will test Keefe’s ability to manage in-games throughout the season.

SCENE AND HEARD

If I’m an NHL GM, I’m camping out around Mike Hoffman, seeing just how inexpensive a one-year deal with the 30-goal scorer might be … Hayley Wickenheiser can do just about anything. And I suspect that, if she wants to, she can be an NHL GM one day … I watched all of The Queen’s Gambit in a couple of nights. Now I’m watching it all over again. It’s that terrific … My favourite Lindros: Sophie … Does the fact Zdeno Chara still hasn’t signed with the Bruins tell you the big fella is packing it in? … It’s great the Argos have changed back to their old logo, but will one person say, “great logo, I’m buying tickets now”? … Isn’t Bruce Boudreau a perfect choice to be the first coach of the Seattle Kraken? Who better to charm a new audience than Boudreau?

AND ANOTHER THING

Happy birthday to Ken Griffey Jr. (51), Yvon Cournoyer (77), Jacques Laperierre (79), Earl Monroe (76), Troy Aikman (54), JuJu Smith-Schuster (24), Guyle Fielder (90), Greg Luzinski (70), Mark Eichhorn (60), Pape Sow (39), and appropriately on what was going to be Grey Cup Sunday, Leon McQuay III (26) and Bibbles Bawel (90) … And, hey, whatever became of Robert Drummond?