Chimera: Bettman 'bent on ruining the game'

Chimera: Bettman 'bent on ruining the game'
December 21, 2012, 5:15 pm
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Chimera to Bettman: You're ruining people's lives

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

If you want to find the poster boys of the NHL lockout you don’t have to look any farther than NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Don Fehr.

The two will be forever linked in the minds of hockey fans watching their sport being driven off its own fiscal cliff.

But it’s not just the fans who are taking sides in a labor dispute that is threatening to wipe out an entire NHL season for the second time in eight years.

On Friday, Capitals veterans Jason Chimera and Brooks Laich directed their anger toward Bettman, questioning his desire to put the game back on the ice.

“This is all part of Gary Bettman’s book,” Chimera said Friday after playing in a scrimmage game against some of the area’s top college players at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

“He seems to be bent on ruining the game. If that’s what he’s out to do he’s sure doing a good job of it. It’s disappointing. We’re willing to get a deal done and try to sit down and talk with no pre-conditions and they don’t want to talk.

“If they set agendas, we’re done. We’ve got to start talking. We’re still not that far apart. It’s just a matter of getting it done. We want to sit down and they don’t want to meet at this point.”

Any progress made between the owners and players blew up on Dec. 7 when a frustrated Bettman accused Fehr of sabotaging the negotiations by making additional demands on a take-it-or-leave-it offer.

“We were close,” Chimera said. “I talked to Ron [Hainsey] directly and he said when you put [Bettman and Fehr] in a room it’s a deal breaker. We can get the sides close but we’re not the ones who put together the documents on a new CBA. We don’t have the skills to do that.

“We tried to get them close and let them hammer out a deal. For whatever reason, they’re bent on making Don Fehr the big enemy. I don’t know if that’s Gary Bettman’s doing. I don’t know if he feels intimidated that he’s kind of met his match maybe because [Fehr] is as smart a guy as he is.

“I don’t know if he’s just [ticked] off and he has a personal vendetta against him. If you have a personal vendetta you’re ruining a lot of people’s lives and not just us.”

Laich was equally critical of Bettman, questioning whether he has the sport’s best interest at heart.

“Our guys really care about the game and it’s unfortunate we feel we’re not getting the same passion back from the other side,” he said.

“I hope they know something we don’t because I think we’re doing tremendous damage to the game and I don’t see any positive effect of what we’re doing right now. I’m hopeful a deal is there and we can get back on the ice because I think we’re just killing the game right now and I don’t understand it.”

As much as the NHL’s players have placed a target on Bettman, the league’s owners have been just as critical of Fehr, saying he’s misrepresented their positions and misled the media on how close the two sides were to making a deal.

“We stand behind Don,” Capitals forward Troy Brouwer said. “We feel he’s led us in the right direction and he’s fighting for the things the players want.

“If the players turned around and told him, ‘OK, this is good. We’ll settle on this and we want to cut a deal, I don’t think he’d get his ego in the way and stop that just because he wants bragging rights.

“His main objective is to get the players back on the ice and that’s why we hired him. He is indifferent to egos and the aspect of ‘I must win.’ He wants what’s best for the players. He’s done a great job for us so far and we’re continuing to stand by him and the direction he feels is best for us.”

Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking. With no negotiations scheduled prior to Christmas, the NHL is dangerously close to making its next announcement the cancellation of the entire season.

“We don’t want the season to be canceled,” Chimera said. “Every day I check my computer 10 to 12 times a day. My wife is going crazy. You look for a miracle to happen and it doesn’t happen. Hopefully they come to their senses. It’s almost laughable what’s going on and what they’re thinking.”