An Open Letter to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman

Dear Mr. Bettman,

As a born and raised Winnipegger who was just old enough to be devastated when our beloved Jets were taken from us, you have always been regarded as the enemy. Now this letter is not to argue the decision made back in 1996 (I tend to think that it had to be done) but instead I want to discuss the current state of the NHL. After a couple of the best seasons in memory and a lot of exciting hockey, another lockout looms over hockey fans like a bad thundercloud and we are all just hoping the storm will blow over. After reading about the NHL’s first proposal to the NHLPA to try to come to a new collective bargaining agreement, it looks like the two sides aren’t even close. And that feels like rain to hockey fans everywhere. Here in Winnipeg however it is even more intensified. We have waited 15-years to get our team back and now it looks like it’s going to be taken away again after only a year. It is something that scares many in this hockey crazed city and a remedy needs to be found.

If this lockout was to take place it would be the third under your direction. In the 94-95 season almost 40 games were lost to lockout, of course everyone remembers the 04-05 season where hockey was taken away from the fans completely, and just as that wound seems to be healing and fans are forgetting, this year the NHL and NHLPA are re-opening the cut. By being on the brink like this, you risk jeopardizing your legacy as commissioner. No other commissioner in any of the 4 major sports in North America (NBA, NFL, NBA and of course NHL) ever, has had three work stoppages under their watch. The NFL most recently lost a pre-season, but no regular season games this past year. Roger Goodell has never lost any regular season NFL games due to work stoppage. David Stern, commissioner of the NBA, has had 4 lockouts during his time in charge but only lost games this past season where teams played 66-games instead of the customary 82. And in the 98-99 season where they were limited to 50-games. Both of David Sterns other lockouts (95 and 96 seasons) were lifted before fans were affected. Bud Selig of the MLB has only lost games once during his extend stay as commissioner, when he lost all of the 1994 MLB playoffs. That negotiation coincidentally also involved Donald Fehr as the players representative, the same position he now holds in the NHL. Now you are on the edge of a feat never accomplished by any of your counterparts by risking losing games a third time, and in reality as head of the fourth best league. Canadian fans will hate to hear that but outside of this country, where business is booming and hockey will always be number one,  fourth best may even be a stretch with Nascar and NCAA sports being right up there competing in ratings and revenue. The NHL is not healthy enough to continue to lose games and lose fans. Over the past few years enormous strides have been made in the United States and many ratings records have been smashed. I would not be confident in the new American fans sticking with the league should we have another lockout.

Canadian fans will always be around for hockey, but there is only so much they can put up with. The Canadian fans are taken for granted in the NHL. It seems all the focus goes to American franchises, which have been huge priority during your reign as commissioner. Many of the southern franchises owe their success (or lack of in some cases) to you and your commitment to expand the game into the country just south of ours. All Canadian fans should hope that eventually our game becomes just as popular in the United States, as it is nothing but a benefit. But if we continue with these work stoppages, it is hard to keep the current fan base, never mind growing the game into what it should be. As of now we have about 2 to 3 months before we could start losing hockey again, for the sake of the fans, the teams, the players and yourself, please come up with a deal to keep hockey.

Sean Olinkin, passionate Winnipeg Jets fan, and fan of the great game of hockey

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Diehard Winnipeg sports fan. Agree or disagree with something I wrote? Find me on twitter @seantheoilcan and let me know Go Jets Go!