By Steve Silverman
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President Barack Obama has now spoken about the NHL lockout twice.
He went on Jay Leno’s nearly unwatchable Tonight Show in October and said that NHL players and owners need to find a way to work it out because they are making their money on the backs of hard-working fans.
This week President Obama spoke to WCCO-TV (CBS) in Minneapolis because the NHL lockout may mean more in the so-called State of Hockey than anywhere else in the United States.
The president seemed quite annoyed that the lockout is still keeping the NHL from opening its doors to players and fans.
”You can figure out how to spread out a bunch of revenue that you’re bringing in, but do right by the people who support you,” he told the station. “And I shouldn’t have to be involved in a dispute between really wealthy players and even wealthier owners. They should be able to settle this themselves. And remember who it is that’s putting all that money in their pockets.”
It’s doubtful that Gary Bettman is going to listen to the president’s words and treat them seriously. He has other things to worry about. He has to keep hard-line NHL owners happy.
Bettman really has to worry about Jeremy Jacobs of the Boston Bruins. Bettman has made the NHL a lot of money since the last lockout in 2004-05, but he still has to jump to Jacobs’ tune. There are other owners who are in Jacobs’ camp, but they are not in the majority.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were recently labeled as the most valuable of the 30 NHL franchises by Forbes Magazine at $1 billion. Owner Larry Tanenbaum recently made an appearance at the players-owners meeting in the first week of December and is one of the league’s more reasonable voices.
At the end of the first day of those meetings, Tanenbaum said he would stay as long as it took to get a deal done. However, he left those meetings about 24 hours later.
Tanenbaum has a valuable team and it will only lose value if the team does not play hockey. He wants the NHL to get back to business. The New York Rangers are the league’s second most valuable property according to Forbes. The financial magazine says they are worth $750 million and their value increased 48 percent in the last year.
Where is owner James Dolan in this process? Why is he not speaking up and helping the NHL reach a deal so Rangers fans can once again fill up Madison Square Garden and fill the team’s coffers with cash?
The Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks follow the Rangers in value. Jacobs’ Bruins are next and then come the Detroit Red Wings.
We know that Jacobs wants to keep the squeeze on the players and punish them with anaconda-like pressure. However, the Molson family owns the Canadiens and Rocky Wirtz has control of the Blackhawks.
Why are these two Original Six franchises cowering to Jacobs’ demands? The Red Wings have flourished under the leadership of owner Mike Illitch. Why can’t he assert himself against Jacobs’ penurious ways?
It’s time for the NHL owners to show some backbone and push back against Bettman and Jacobs.
It’s not logical that these two issues could result in another canceled season, but the NHL is just a few weeks away from that inexplicable result.
Bettman and Jacobs have turned this into a game of chicken and they think they can beat the players.
If they are wrong, they just may kill the NHL. The more reasonable minds in the NHL can’t let that happen.
Should the other NHL owners step up and get a deal done without the Bruins owner and Gary Bettman? Share your thoughts.