Gary Bettman is the owner's diminutive sock puppet. He is also a very handsomely paid puppet.
Gary Bettman's salary during the NHL's canceled 2004-05 season was $3.7 million. In 2010-11, according to the NHL's recent tax filings (via Sports Business Journal), Bettman's more than doubled to almost $8 million.
The owners obviously like how their sock puppet has been performing, because they are paying him so well.
So, as the NHL owners and NHLPA do their latest Kabuki theater, the best clues to figuring out how the drama will end will be coming from the puppet's mouth.
Jusin Piercy at CBC Sports has an article parsing the puppet speak, Gary Bettman's language of NHL labour talks, then & now:
The old adage is "it's not what you say, it's how you say it," but when it comes to the NHL's labour negotiations with the players' union, it could be argued that it's when you say it.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on Wednesday that he believes comparing the work stoppage which wiped out the 2004-05 season to the current labour negotiations is essentially an exercise in futility.
Despite that claim, examining the language used by Bettman in these two periods of negotiations turned out to be an exercise in both contrast and similarities. That's because while the issues may not exactly be the same, the end result could very well become a mirror image...
Apples and oranges?
The difference in the CBAs between North American professional sports leagues has also been a hot topic during discussions in 2004 and 2012. It's also been looked at slightly differently in both cases:
Gary Bettman to reporters on Feb. 15, 2004, in St. Paul, Minn.:
"One has nothing to do with the other. Our economics are not baseball's economics. Our game is not baseball's game. Our owners are not baseball's owners, with one or two exceptions. Our union is not baseball's union.
"What we do has to be crafted and suited to address hockey, to address the NHL, to address our 30 teams and our 700-plus players."
Gary Bettman to reporters on Aug. 15, 2012, in Toronto:
"I think it's fair to say that we value the [union's] proposal and what it means in terms of its economics differently than the players' association does. And, I think there are still a number of issues where we're looking at the world differently. I'm not sure that there has yet been recognition of the economics in our world, and I mean the greater world and the sports industry, taking into account what recently happened with the NFL and the NBA.
"And, so there is still a wide gap between us with not much time to go … I do think it's fair to say that the sides are still apart, far apart, have different views of the world and the issues."
Breakdown: Bettman's comment in 2012 uses the imagery of work stoppage in other leagues to make his point, while in 2004 he dismissed the notion the NHL should follow in the footsteps of the MLB, saying it needs to plot its own course.