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Am I the only one that respects Gary Bettman?


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#1 Nightfall

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 12:50 PM

I was on ESPN's website and found a good article on Gary Bettman. Now, before the Bettman insults start flying, I wanted to throw my thoughts on the table. I believe Bettman has done a good job with the NHL as a whole. The league is making money as a whole. The game has improved from the clutch and grab hockey that was prevalent in the late 90s and early 2000s. Its not all good though, as I also believe that the league has expanded too much and they should be contracting to 24 teams. Still, Bettman is a smart commissioner and deserves his post.

Have a read of the article and let me know what you think.

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http://insider.espn....tory?id=5602951

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The NHL commissioner is looking to define his league -- and his legacy

GARY BETTMAN IS IN A GOOD MOOD. Two days earlier, an independent arbitrator upheld the league's rejection of the Devils' first attempt to sign Ilya Kovalchuk. The decision backed Bettman's belief that the 17-year, $102 million deal was just a blatant end run around the NHL's salary cap. It was the latest validation of Bettman's stature as the most dominating commissioner in pro sports. Even the August sun, pouring through a wall of windows into Bettman's Manhattan office, seems to shine for him. He's relaxed, even cheery, in pleasant contrast to his reputation as a pugnacious and humorless know-it-all who looks as if he were born in a dark suit. At the moment, he's even in shirtsleeves -- blue tie knotted at his throat, but shirtsleeves nonetheless. "Whatever you want, we're happy to help," he says.

"In that case," I say, "I'd like a franchise."

He grins: "Do you have an American Express card with a pretty big limit?"

Soon enough we're digging into serious issues: the Kovalchuk deal, off-season drug testing and NHL participation in the Olympics -- all issues that will shape pro hockey in the coming years. Bettman handles even the most contentious subjects with aplomb. But something has him uneasy. Without warning, he blurts, "I assume when I'm being funny and cute, we're not going to intersperse it into the article."

Any hint of a smile is gone. "Do it in context," he says, more order than request.

Summer sun or not, Gary Bettman's office is suddenly as chilly as Calgary in January.

KENESAW MOUNTAIN Landis saved baseball's soul by excommunicating the Black Sox. Pete Rozelle created an NFL juggernaut with a savvy merger and socialist distribution of TV revenue. But no major sport commissioner has had more far-reaching impact in his world than Bettman, who has influenced everything from the location of franchises to the size of goalie pads. The NHL is Gary's league; Sid and Ovi just play in it.

In his 18-year reign, the NHL has gone from a league hemorrhaging $200 million a year to one that just produced record (estimated) profits of $180 million. On ice, the clutching and grabbing that numbed offenses last decade has given way to thrilling open-ice rushes. "He's the best thing that could've happened to the NHL, because he's always known what needed to be done," says Dave Checketts, managing owner of the Blues.

Change, though, has come at a cost -- most traumatically, the 2004-05 season that Bettman sacrificed to win the hard salary cap he insisted was necessary for league survival. And still, payroll-cost certainty hasn't kept several owners from struggling. The Coyotes became a $170 million ward of the league, and other warm-weather clubs are barely above water, giving rise to the biggest wave of criticism about Bettman's reign -- his focus on southern expansion.

This was probably why Bettman had second thoughts about his charge-a-franchise quip. He is a fierce protector of the brand. And god help the naysayer who suggests that even the toughest problems won't be solved. "He's the last guy you want to fight," Checketts says. "He doesn't give up, doesn't give in, doesn't bend. When he decides, it's over. He will win."

His ruthlessness has Bettman both respected and despised. In Canada, fan and media vitriol is so nasty you'd think the man had torched every Tim Hortons from Halifax to Whitehorse. Players and GMs, fearing reprisals, refuse to talk publicly against him. Even Boston's Jeremy Jacobs, one of the NHL's most powerful owners, worries that an innocuous quote for this story about adjusting the collective bargaining agreement will get him fined. Don Meehan, one of hockey's shrewdest agents, can't get off the phone with me fast enough: "I'm not going there," he says at the first mention of the commissioner's name.

Simple fear isn't all that makes players and agents go silent: Donald Fehr has told them to shut up too. The most powerful man in baseball for two decades as head of the MLB players' union, Fehr is a fierce negotiator who once won a $280 million payout when he proved that MLB owners were colluding. After retiring in 2009, he became an unpaid consultant to the chronically chaotic NHLPA; he's now the presumptive choice to be the union's next executive director, a hiring expected to be finalized by a vote later this fall. (Calls to Fehr, 62, went unreturned.) For the first time since former union boss Bob Goodenow lost his throwdown with Bettman six years ago, NHL players have someone who might just be able to muscle the commish.

Over the next 18 months, Bettman will try to make himself stronger by shoring up struggling franchises, bolstering league finances, securing a more lucrative TV deal and, most important, sealing loopholes in the CBA. Bettman says the media overhyped the Kovalchuk contract battle, even though he spent the summer engaged in the talks. The NHL approved a slightly shorter and smaller deal on Sept. 4, but New Jersey was fined $3 million and lost two draft picks. More to the point, Bettman got the NHLPA to limit such deals going forward. The commissioner, never complacent, feels an extra urgency to secure labor peace. "I would prefer a constructive, strong relationship with a players' association that can work with us," he says, countering a pervasive feeling that he's trying to put the union out of business. "There's a lot of people saying we already did that," he says a bit too enthusiastically. Bettman seems to realize his overzealousness because he quickly adds, "That's not the goal." He saw the new union regime looming long before Fehr showed at the World Hockey Summit in Toronto in August. And he has been in charge too long to be scared. But it has been forever since Gary Bettman wasn't the undisputed smartest person in the room.

He was small and felt like an outcast as an only child growing up in Queens, N.Y. His father, who owned a nut business, left home when Gary was 5; he died eight years later. "I don't think I'm overstating things," Bettman says haltingly. "I may have been the only kid in the '50s living in a single-parent household." He pauses. "It was different."

What he lacked in size or social confidence Bettman made up for in smarts. And while that made him more of an outsider, it also gave him a means to control his world. Today, he eagerly argues the most controversial issues facing the NHL but gets prickly over innocent biographical questions -- like what he dreamed of growing up to be. "I'm 58 years old," Bettman snaps. "I'm not exactly in touch with what my feelings were 46 years ago. I'd need a couple of hours of therapy to start thinking about that stuff."

For the record, he claims no memory of ever wanting to be anything other than a lawyer. He went to Cornell's school of industrial and labor relations, mostly for its prelaw curriculum, then got a law degree at New York University. Hired by a Manhattan law firm whose clients included the NBA, his talents were soon recognized by then-executive vice president David Stern, who hired him away in 1981. Bettman eventually rose from in-house lawyer to the league's No. 3 executive, charged with implementing its salary cap. The NHL came calling in 1992, making Bettman the first non-hockey lifer to run its ship.

He wasn't born into the game, but Bettman seems genetically suited to command a sport. "Our mother had enormous brain power," says Jeffrey Pollack, Bettman's half-brother and 13 years his junior. "Gary is a kinetic intellectual force. Some of that came from her." Pollack says his own career was inspired by Bettman's: He founded Sports Business Daily before spending four years as commissioner of the World Series of Poker. Today, he heads the Professional Bull Riders league. Pollack knows how it feels to walk into a foreign culture as its boss. "Gary is a superior intellect, and some people take that as pugnacious," he says. "When I'm with him at an NHL arena and he gets booed, I cheer loudly. Gary laughs it off, but it's painful."

The boos are one side effect of forcing many wrenching changes on the NHL. Six new teams -- Florida, Anaheim, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota and Columbus -- sprung to life during Bettman's first eight years on the job. Three others migrated south, pushing the NHL's center of gravity from its roots. But the current state of warm-weather teams has sparked some second-guessing, even within the NHL's Board of Governors (albeit anonymously). "I think selling ice to the Sun Belt, driving hockey into markets that didn't want it, may be Gary's one mistake," one owner says.

The commissioner disagrees: "The idea that I hate Canada is obviously absurd. Calgary and Edmonton wouldn't have survived if not for the things I did to save those franchises. Having teams in big U.S. markets gave us a footprint competitive with what other leagues have. Those markets make us more attractive, long-term, to television and national sponsors."

Another key to Bettman's recovery plan -- tamping down player salaries -- nearly killed the patient. Shuttering a major league for a year was an unprecedented gamble, one which won him a hard cap but also led to an untimely end to a valuable TV deal with ESPN. The NHL has since been shown on Versus, the young cable network owned by Comcast, which also owns the Flyers. That deal expires next summer and the league expects competitive negotiations, with ESPN among those at the table. How successful the league is at securing more money and exposure will largely answer the question of whether hockey has truly recovered from the lockout. Bettman says some evidence is already in. "Our cable ratings, nationally, in the first two rounds of the playoffs were the highest they've been since they started recording these things," he says. "On a network that isn't in as many homes."

Those ratings reflect a more dramatic and clean game, mitigating gripes from traditionalists still rankled by postlockout innovations like tie-breaking shootouts. Bettman credits execs Colin Campbell, a former Rangers coach, and Brendan Shanahan, an ex-player, for authoring most of the rules changes. But that isn't to suggest he isn't heavily involved in every decision.

HE PRACTICALLY BURSTS with delight. "Oh, I know the question that's coming!" Seven words into hearing a sentence, Bettman, like a game show contestant pounding the buzzer, jumps in. He's slightly off in anticipating the subject, but it's his overeager reaction that is most telling. He isn't just the smartest guy in most rooms; he can't resist making sure everyone is clear on that fact. When Bettman is excited, he springs up in his chair, military straight. "Go ahead!" he says. "It's the fighting question!"

No actually, it's the head-shot question. Last season, the NHL confronted an epidemic of concussions by rewriting the rules to draw distinctions between east-west headshots and full-on noggin-poundings. So why can't a civilized-if-violent sport -- Bettman interrupts me to substitute "physical" for "violent" -- ban headshots entirely?

"No, no, no!" he shouts. "It's not about hitting people in the head. We obviously don't want players hit in the head." Bettman then begins a disquisition about the tiptoe between letting players play and keeping them from killing each other. His reasoning is impressive. What gets him stoked, though, are illustrative examples. "So if I take my elbow and I hit you in the head," he says, leaning forward, words pouring faster, "or I take my stick and I hit you in the head or I take my fist and I hit you in the head & " The father of three and doting grandfather looks as if he'd like to drop the gloves right now, or at least unclasp his French cuffs.

The biggest fight Bettman has won to date, the salary cap, still feels like a split decision. And it is largely what's drawn Fehr into the players' corner for the rematch. Sure, the cap saved franchises on both sides of the border, but it has also fueled a dizzying turnover in talent that frays the team-fan bond Bettman claims to prize. The Blackhawks won the Cup in June; by August the cap had forced them to jettison one third of their roster.

"Since the lockout, guys have played for three, four, five teams," says Ian Pulver, an agent and former NHLPA executive. "The game is better and more exciting, and the players like that. But it's a lot different to be a player now. Everyone points to an increase in the average salary, but careers are cut short as younger players replace older, more expensive ones. Pack your bags, unpack, pack your bags."

Bettman shrugs when he hears this critique. "The relationship with fans is about whether you're winning," he says. "Chicago decided what it was going to do this past season to try to win the Cup. I think they knew going in this wasn't a team they could sustain for the long haul."

He brings the same lack of sentiment to the debate over whether to pause the 2014 season so players can participate in the Olympics in Sochi, Russia. "The players who represented their countries in Vancouver, they didn't get compensated, and they risked their careers," he says. "I think the total of their contracts exceeded $2 billion. And yet the IOC wouldn't even allow the NHL Network to cover my press conference!"

His detached stance is entirely rational, but it also gives the commissioner another chip when collective bargaining comes around next year. Still, how will he tell Alex Ovechkin that he can't represent his homeland in his homeland, especially when Ted Leonsis, the Capitals owner, says he'll allow his star to play regardless?

"Have you ever been to Sochi?" Bettman says with contempt. "Maybe you should go."

So much for the charm offensive.

Then again, Bettman isn't much interested in winning hearts, not when he believes his sport can do it for him. And, anyway, it is the looming battle with Fehr that will most likely determine his legacy. Bettman says, and has shown often, that he's not one to back down. But he claims not to be spoiling for anything other than a league that works for both sides. "I'm not a fan of the fight for the sake of the fight," the commissioner says, settling placidly back into his chair.

Maybe the Kovalchuk wrangling, which ended with both the league and the union able to claim victory, was the beginning of something radical: hockey's combative commissioner figuring out how to wage peace. Or maybe that's just what he wants the other guys in the room to think.
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#2 atodaso

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 01:04 PM

yes, you are


#3 Nightfall

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 01:05 PM

yes, you are

Well, now that we got that out of the way. :D

I will move along then. :)
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#4 cupforwings

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 01:18 PM

This was a pretty good article... as much as everybody hates Bettman, you can't argue with the growth the league has experienced.

#5 Tommy_Like_Wingy

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 01:44 PM

I don't understand all the hate he gets. I think he's done a reasonable job. You'll never please everybody when you're in a position like he is.

I'm just glad he's not driving the sport into the ground like Stern is with the NBA. What a joke of a league that's become.

#6 atodaso

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 01:45 PM

Well, now that we got that out of the way. :D

I will move along then. :)


lol

well i think you were asking for it with that title :D

#7 cusimano_brothers

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 01:48 PM

The NHL commissioner is looking to define his league -- and his legacy


I would think that he would have already defined his "legacy" in the almost eighteen years he's held the position; he shouldn't be thinking of doing it on the downward side of his tenure. To me, any actions now seem to be made in an attempt to please the majority of those who hired him. So, I offer this.

"Mess up tomorrow, don't mess up now".

- Harry James Benson, CBE.


#8 Konnan511

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 02:18 PM

I've always been a fan. A lot of people that don't like him are from the "monkey see/monkey do" regime. No one offered the NHL a TV contract so he ran with OLN/VS and got the most money possible. The profits for owners and the NHL are retardedly hi. He's done a great job. He could have done better in a few instances, but as a whole, you have to be an idiot to think he hasn't done a good job.
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#9 Doc Holliday

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 02:25 PM

Bettman ruined this league! He fixes Penguins games! He hates the Wings! GET HIM!!


No, you probably aren't. Personally I have neither respect nor disdain for the guy since he is only one member of a very large organization.

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#10 hooon

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 02:40 PM

You say hes done a great job in the post lockout era fixing the clutching and grabbing from the 90s and 00s. But, uhh, he was the commissioner in the 90s and 00s as well.

I think 18 years is absurdly long for someone to be in office, seems more like a dictatorship. I'm hearing praise for him in this thread for things he didn't even do, but simply occurred during the time of his reign.

IMO, his priorities with this league are completely backwards, with quality of gameplay and officiating being much lower on his itinerary than expansion and pleasing the owners, GMs and trustees who will agree to keep him in office as long as they keep getting paid, despite the fact that several franchises are obviously losing money. Not to mention some of the egregious decisions he approved during the NHLs expansion days.

I'm no conspiracy theorist. He doesn't fix games, he isn't corrupt, or working for the pens. He's just self-serving. Sure, there have been things he didn't screw up, but I do not believe that he is the only person in the world who can run this league, and there is a LOT of room for improvement.
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#11 cusimano_brothers

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 02:57 PM

From an employer/employee labour standpoint, he has shown almost total disrespect for those who work for the League.

"Mess up tomorrow, don't mess up now".

- Harry James Benson, CBE.


#12 wingslionstigers

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 03:11 PM

The NHL is now a game that's won and lost by the power play. Penalties so absurd you would have to lower the intensity of your game and play like a girl to avoid.

He's done a good job you say? Give me a break. A team can dominate for 2 periods and come the 3rd get charged with ridicules penalties and lose the game. Whats the matter with you guys...

#13 CaliWingsNut

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 03:14 PM

I read the first sentence you wrote and stopped reading.

Bettman is the reason the NHL is not on ESPN right now.

Figures don't lie, but liars sure figure. - Mark Twain


#14 ACallToArms

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 03:15 PM

I guess from a business perspective he's done well. The league's making money, teams are expanding into new markets with lots of potential revenue. However, the business decisions aren't always good for hockey. Forcing hockey down the throats of the southern US market just isn't going to work. Yes, its a market that was untapped by the NHL, and there's potential to make money. But I think the Phoenix situation proves that you can't just plop a team in the middle of the desert and expect fans to support it. Many of these teams only draw a crowd if they're consistently making it far into the playoffs every year. As soon as that's not the case, they move on.

I'm interested to know how big of a crowd the Duck's are drawing these days. How about the Stars? I honestly don't know how loyal their fan bases are, but I'd bet they aren't as loyal as a lot of the northern teams in the traditional hockey markets.

And don't get me started on the NBC shenanigans..... oh boy.

Edited by ACallToArms, 22 September 2010 - 03:16 PM.


#15 GMRwings1983

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 03:23 PM

He is singlehandedly responsible for us not winning the Cup in 1995, 1996, 2004, 2006 and 2009.
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#16 ACallToArms

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 03:29 PM

I heard he eats babies.

#17 Nightfall

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 03:32 PM

You say hes done a great job in the post lockout era fixing the clutching and grabbing from the 90s and 00s. But, uhh, he was the commissioner in the 90s and 00s as well.

I suppose a commissioner is not allowed to look at the problems in a league and make changes to it in response? At least some credit has to go to him on fixing these issues.

I think 18 years is absurdly long for someone to be in office, seems more like a dictatorship. I'm hearing praise for him in this thread for things he didn't even do, but simply occurred during the time of his reign.

You are right. In the end though, he will get tabbed as the guy who did it or not. As right or unjustified as that might be. Its the same thing as being a CEO. The failings of a company will in effect hit the CEO. Just as if the company does well. The CEO may have not done anything, and it was the people below him, but the CEO gets credit.

IMO, his priorities with this league are completely backwards, with quality of gameplay and officiating being much lower on his itinerary than expansion and pleasing the owners, GMs and trustees who will agree to keep him in office as long as they keep getting paid, despite the fact that several franchises are obviously losing money. Not to mention some of the egregious decisions he approved during the NHLs expansion days.

I agree with you somewhat here. Some of the expansions should have never happened. Giving expansion clubs to questionable markets is really horrible. His job is to please the owners, but I still think the fans is what he should be concentrating on more. After all, he is marketing to us. As for the quality of gameplay and officiating, I believe it is quite good. The NHL Officials are the best out there. As a referee, I can tell you that it is not easy to do even at a rec league or youth hockey official. These guys are like professional athletes. There really is not as much of an officiating problem in my mind. The real issue is fixing the gameplay problems such as removing the instigator rule. I would add no touch icing to reduce some injury. Those are just a couple examples.

I'm no conspiracy theorist. He doesn't fix games, he isn't corrupt, or working for the pens. He's just self-serving. Sure, there have been things he didn't screw up, but I do not believe that he is the only person in the world who can run this league, and there is a LOT of room for improvement.

I believe there is some room for improvement for sure. I also believe that there are better people out there. I also believe that there will be some dud commissioners in the NHL that will really do nothing down the road. Take a look at the history of commissioners in the league, and you will see that there were a few one year wonders who did nothing for the game. Then you have people like Clarance Campbell who held their post for 20+ years.

He is singlehandedly responsible for us not winning the Cup in 1995, 1996, 2004, 2006 and 2009.

You forgot your /sarcasm tags.
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#18 yzerman3cups

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 03:33 PM

If the NHl has shown a profit I guess I can't say Bettman is a horrible leader. Though I think to myself if there was a true hockey person in charge how well would the league be doing right now?? Over expansion and rule changes to the point where even the refs don't know what is and isn't a penalty these days make the game more confusing and frustrating to watch than ever before. Lack of getting the game visible on major networks is something you have to point the finger at him for also.
This game is the only sport I watch with a passion and I have to say Bettman has brought the game down in my eyes. The teams may be making money but the game itself isn't what it was before he took over. I pray for the day an actual person who is brilliant financially and loves the sport becomes commisioner. Then we can see how well this sport can do against the big 3 (NFL/NBA/MLB)

#19 Louisville

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 03:35 PM

The only only thing worse than the rabid Bettman haters is someone who goes out of their way to praise him. I'll stick with the former, thank you.

Here's some reasons I hate him and blame him for since 75% of you are sucking his balls right now.


-A labor strike that reduced the season to 48 games, and the other a lockout that lost an entire season.
-I'm a hockey fan and I can't watch many games without shelling out money for those channels.
-$600 million with ESPN in 1998 to $72.5 with Versus in 2008
-Bulls*** scheduling in the 2009 playoffs.
-Terrible, terrible reffing every year. Hey! remember the 2008, 2009, 2010 playoffs?!?
-Putting teams in cities where I don't believe hockey will ever be successful(well, maybe because of teams like the Red Wings and revenue sharing)
-The dilution of talent because of over expansion.
-Hockey isn't yet popular in the U.S. so lets start playing in Europe!
-Handling of the Phoenix situation.
-Did I mention terrible AND s***ty reffing?
-Say what you want about his wonderful economic growth that you make it out to be but the NFL, MLB, NBA and even NASCAR spank the NHL every year.
-And the most recent for me wasthe NHL's reaction to this fiasco. A prime example of, "Shut the hell up, we're in charge."


Are all of these his fault? Probably not.Let me hold onto those delusions. BUT there is a reason he get's booed so many places he goes. He gets booed at the NHL DRAFT for christ sake. You talk about him eliminating the clutch and grab play like it was such a genius move too, no just a goddamn OBVIOUS one.




/end of rant

#20 Louisville

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 03:47 PM

Oh yeah, and I forgot to add because Datsyuk and Lidstrom are injured before the All-Star game they didn't hold to their "obligations to the fans, and the rights holders." According to the NHL.





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