Bettman easy villain in NHL rift

PITTSBURGH – The NHL lockout drags on, and much of the responsibility for the mess falls on the slight shoulders of commissioner Gary Bettman.

He’s an easy villain, and the role fits him well. In Canada, where people are pathologically possessive about the sport, he’s guilty of the biggest sin: He’s not a hockey guy.

Bettman has no long-standing affection for hockey. He’s a lawyer, a hired gun who got the job because of his apprenticeship with the NBA under commissioner David Stern.

Fans get disillusioned with commissioners, partly because they misunderstand the job description. Some attach an aura to the job that suggests it should be filled by Vatican appointment.

The commissioner isn’t the fan’s advocate or protector of the sport. He’s the CEO of a multi-billion corporation. His interest in satisfying fans is making sure they’ll continue to buy tickets and merchandise and build television ratings. But the commissioner of any sport pretty much sees fans as jersey-wearing, ticket-buying, TV-watching ATMs for the league.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig gets criticized for a lot of things, but he’s been hugely successful at the job he was hired to do. MLB revenues have never been higher. Most teams are playing in new parks that someone else paid for. Selig has forged labor peace with a system that makes everyone rich.

There’s a reason he’s still on the job at age 78, and there’s a reason he makes more than $22 million in salary. He delivers. He’s enhanced the value of franchises. The San Diego Padres were sold last summer for $800 million, which is eight times what the departing owner paid for the franchise in 1994.

This is what commissioners do. The NHL owners loved the labor deal Bettman negotiated seven years ago, which included a salary cap and an unprecedented 24 percent reduction in existing contracts. But they’ve decided it’s not enough, and they’re asking for more givebacks.

They’ll get them, too. The question is how much the players will surrender. It’s been an ugly fight, but they knew that was coming.

Bettman is protecting the owners’ wallets. That’s his job.

Onward and upward

Pittsburgh Steelers fans have a long-standing tradition of complaining about the team’s offensive coordinator.

The current target is Todd Haley, viewed as one of the main culprits in an 8-8 season. Haley replaced Bruce Arians, who was dumped on orders of owner Art Rooney II after consecutive 12-4 records.

Arians moved on to the Indianapolis Colts and was 9-3 as interim head coach while Chuck Pagano was on medical leave. Arians is now interviewing for head coaching jobs.

He’s not the first vilified offensive coordinator to find success after leaving Pittsburgh. Tom Moore went to the Colts and was offensive coordinator for their 2006 Super Bowl-winning team. Kevin Gilbride has been the New York Giants’ offensive coordinator in their 2007 and 2011 championship seasons.

Mehno can be reached at