No sooner did the NHL’s head honcho take his first step onto the Rogers Arena floor before he was met with that all-too-familiar sound from the Vancouver faithful.
Boo! Boo! Boo! Boo!
In a fitting pittance of justice, fans straight across the other side of the continent were doing what those in Atlanta and just about every other hockey market wished they could do – boo the weasel of a Commissioner that would sell out the game for the highest buck.
Canadians hate Bettman because he took a pair of teams away in the mid-90s and moved them South. Atlantans have learned to despise the Commissioner because he is talks out of both sides of his mouth and because he’s about to take the Atlanta Thrashers away.
To justify what ended up being a political deal to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in Arizona, the less-than-honorable NHL Commissioner was talking about how the league had this mythical “covenant with fans,” about how they wanted to exhaust all avenues before moving a hockey team.
But once the taxpayers of Glendale were jobbed for a $25 million subsidy to keep the team there for next year, the NHL turned its attention to Atlanta and gave the city 21 scant days to come up with a solution before the Atlanta Spirit moved their hockey team to Winnipeg.
While the Phoenix saga has years, the Atlanta saga could be measured in not-even-equivalent hours. And the NHL had their perfect storm to cash in on a hefty fee that True North Sports and Entertainment of Winnipeg was willing to pay.
You had a team that wasn’t tied to a lease, coupled with an uncaring, greedy, despicable ownership group named the Atlanta Spirit that had just enough “spirit” to take the money and run.
You also had Bettman, who would rather take a $60 million payday in the form of a “relocation” or “breakup” fee from the Canadian entity that sought to move the Thrashers to Winnipeg, a city 1/7th the size of Atlanta’s metropolitan area.
So Atlanta will lose its second hockey team. This time not because the market failed – a Bettman test – but because ownership failed and Atlanta wasn’t given enough time to figure out a free market solution to keep the team here instead of doing things the preferred Bettman way – on the back of the taxpayers.
Don’t believe me? Here are the words of the NHL Commissioner to CNBC’s Darren Rovell ahead of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday.
“We could have moved Phoenix very easily except the City of Glendale stepped up and said, 'We're going to make an arrangement with you to keep the club here another year,'” Bettman said. “Last year, the city of Glendale and this year coming up the City of Glendale is financing the losses of the club. That's something that wasn't present in Atlanta.”
Pop goes the weasel again.
So that’s where this phony commitment to fans really ends: the patented Bettman two-step municipal shakedown. If only Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed would have paid a $25 million tribute out of the city’s coffers to the NHL the Thrashers would be here next year.
Sorry Mr. Commissioner, I am not buying your latest load of you-know-what that you are shoveling.
Atlanta didn’t even really get a chance to come up with the money – either through a good-ole fashioned municipal shakedown, a private-sector corporate season ticket drive or otherwise.
Bettman and his NHL cronies had $60 million reasons to move a team to Winnipeg after all and had to pull a fast one to heist Atlanta’s hockey team out of town.
The Atlanta Spirit reportedly got $20 million of that shakedown money – presumably to make up for Spirit owner Michael Gearon’s son’s tears as the hockey team that his dad owned slipped town. (Twenty million will buy a bunch of new sheets). Gearon and his partner-in-crime Bruce Levenson also received a $110 million payday for selling a team they ran into the ground.
The bottom line is that the NHL stayed in Phoenix because of greed. They also left Atlanta because of that same greed.
And while greed to some extent can be good, when you are too greedy and you run a business the way NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has, is there any question that you are going to get booed wherever you go and booed lustily even after an epic seven-game battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup?
Although the NHL’s CEO doesn’t think it’s just boos that he’s hearing.
“It comes with the turf, it's not an issue,” Bettman told Rovell. “There are also a lot of people cheering.”
He’s clearly delusional. I didn’t hear any cheers in Vancouver last night for the NHL’s chameleon commissioner.
I heard boos and a lot of them.
I heard Canucks fans cheering Boston goaltender Tim Thomas when he snatched the Conn Smythe Trophy away from Bettman. I heard Canucks fans classily cheered the Cup as it entered the rink. I heard Canucks fans cheering some of the Bruins when they skated with the Stanley Cup.
But there were no cheers for Bettman. Zero. Except if you consider those, “Bettman Sucks” chants to somehow be cheers, Mr. Commissioner.
Nor should there be any cheers.
Snake oil salesmen who ruin the game’s reputation by selling out the sport for the highest dollar should be forced out of town, not put in stewardship of the game of hockey for more than a generation.
Vancouver, you made Atlanta proud and gave this city that is about to never get a chance to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals one last thing to smile about.
For that, Thrashers fans are grateful. Thank you.