Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bettman's Venom at IIHF

In Chicago on Friday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman held his annual pre-Stanley Cup Finals press conference.

He was predictably optimistic about the state of the NHL, talking up the improving business and how strong most of the franchises are. While there are struggles -- and Bettman talked about the potential futures in cities like Winnipeg and Quebec City that want back in the league -- he is right that the overall picture is pretty good.

Bettman also talked about recent comments from Rene Fasel, the head of the International Ice Hockey Federation. Fasel was upset that many NHL stars chose to skip the World Championships, even though they weren't hurt. Names like Ryan Miller and Sidney Crosby are among those who sat out, despite being -- at least that we know of -- healthy.

The commish was a little perturbed, to say the least.

"You just hit one of my hot spots," said Bettman, with fire in his eyes. "If you remember the debate [IIHF chief] Rene Fasel and I had during my media availability in Vancouver, one of the things I said . . . was I don't believe the IIHF respects our game, our players, our business or our schedule."

"What was said by the IIHF during the World Championships," he continued, "was exactly that. As soon as I saw the article I put a call into Rene Fasel and I told him that what he said was inappropriate, out of line and simply wrong, and that he needed to make a public apology. So I'm not happy with the way the IIHF somehow feels it has an entitlement to these great athletes who risk their careers, and put themselves out of their own time without anything but love of country to be belittled by the IIHF." He finished the answer by saying, "If I sounded a little passionate on the subject I apologize," before briefly pausing and saying, "actually, I don't."

Bettman shouldn't be apologizing. It's an insult to the sport that Fasel hasn't apologized.

Fasel got what anyone in his position could have wanted in February. The quadrennial Olympic tournament was one of the most intriguing and entertaining hockey tournaments in the sport's history. The IIHF should have been proud of the nations and players who took part.

Instead, they got greedy, continuing to hold their World Championship in the Olympic years, stretching the product too thin and leaving themselves open to players skipping the tournament who might have otherwise been inclined to participate.

They also hurt themselves with timing. This event should be played in August or September, as a warmup to the NHL season, not concurrently with the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The IIHF shows their immeasurable ego in holding their tourrnament when they do, because they just expect they'll get the proper media attention and that players will come out in droves to play in it.

When many of the sport's best players are still playing for their NHL team, how does the IIHF expect to run the best possible tournament?

Of course, since the IIHF has run things this way for years, they expect the NHL and its players to conform. There is no negotiation here. There is no compromise. It's the IIHF's way or no way.

That's too bad, because the sport deserves better. It deserves to have a World Championship, but not during an Olympic year. Why not be like FIBA, who only runs one World Championship every four years, and they do it in the even-numbered year where there are no Olympics? Sure, it might seem like a step back for the IIHF, but there really isn't any point in holding the tournament in an Olympic year.

Not only that, but it takes the strain off your best athletes, and it might mean you get more of them to participate in the event.

And maybe you'll stop pissing Gary Bettman off. Since he holds a lot of influence over whether you get to have the game's best players in the World Championships, methinks you might want to be a little more respectful of his feelings and concerns.

Just a shot in the dark on that.

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