© Geoff Brookes
The Bettman Tapes
Gary Bettman allowed himself the luxury of a few idle moments, as he stared at the 8X10 framed photo perched somewhat to his left, on his very large desk. He looked at the group of Las Vegas businessmen posing with Bill Daly and himself in front of the fountain at the Bellagio hotel. He was musing about which of them might become the lead owner for a potential new NHL hockey team based in Las Vegas.
His reverie was interrupted by his second-in-command, Bill Daly, bursting through his doors.
“Geez, Gary, what the heck is this?” blurted Bill, as he threw the newspapers on Gary’s desk, nearly knocking the photo frame sideways.
“Well, what do you mean, Bill?”, drawled Bettman with his wry smile. He spoke in a laconic way. His postured incredulity suggested that, while he really didn’t know what you what you were actually saying, he knew what you were trying to say, and he had all of the answers for you.
“Gary. Seriously. We never talked about FOUR expansion teams. FOUR! Really! And now we’re paying the Mobil bills for Vinnie in Florida and Peter in Carolina! And don’t start talking about those clowns in the desert, saying what great attendance they’re going to have. Honestly, how much are we going to have to pay NBC to get them to only do crowd shots above the club seat level? And you’re going to go to Vegas, Gary? Their going to have to show the games on a giant imax outside the arena, just so people know what a puck is! Jiminy Cricket, Gare. I’m going to have a coronary!”
There was a long pause. Gary was looking up at Bill Daly, with a quizzical frown.
“Whatever do you mean, Bill, ‘Going to Vegas’?”
Daly turned red faster than the fountain changed colours. He spoke slowly, struggling to maintain his composure.
“We were just there, Gary. Remember the nice photo?”
“Oh, oh, yes…that photo.”
“Well…….”, Daly persevered.
Bettman calmly let his gaze fall to the newspapers that Daly had thrown on his desk.
“Oh, you’re concerned about that terribly erroneous news story!”
“Gary, we both now perfectly well that you’re the anonymous source. Would you care to elucidate your reasons for feeding the Edmonton readers such unadulterated bullshit?”
“Well, Bill, that Katz guy has shown some real moxy. I thought that Edmonton might be a good place to plant the news story. Kind of a feel good place. Canadian, you know, eh?” he said with an exaggerated wink.
“Gary, yeah, Edmonton, but the bullshit?”
Another long pause, while Gary smiled, as though he suddenly remembered a good joke.
“Bill, I did that for the good folks in Toronto and Seattle.”
Daly waited for Bettman to go on, but the lull was back, after the brief interjection.
“Bill, what’s the worst thing I can do for the people in Toronto and Seattle?”
Daly seemed perplexed by this question.
“Easy Bill. The worst thing I can do is give them the impression that we’ll wait for them. Oh yes, hockey denizens of the burgh of Markham. Fear not! We will wait forever for you to sort out your arena financing. Don’t worry, dear mayor. We’ll just sit tight. We have no hurry, and lord knows we have nowhere else to go anyway. We’ll just come by for a beer and a short nap at the Air Canada Centre every six months or so until you come up with your new building #2, and a billion dollars or so. Never mind how much goes to the Leafs, and how much comes to me – I mean the league. Did I mention the Sabres? No….fine then. Don’t mention the Sabres. Just you sit tight for a few years. Better to get it right, instead of rushing.”
“Bill, does this help the good people of Markham? No, it does not!”
“OK, I kinda get that. But why four expansion teams. What has Las Vegas got to do with that?”
“Bill, do you remember how we said we were going to move the Coyotes to Winnipeg?”
Daly smirked. “Yeah, I remember that. Pretty good one, huh?”
“Yep. You remember what a near thing that was, Bill?”
“Yeah, one of those crazy city council votes. Hardly stayed awake for the vote!”
“No Bill! Not the council vote! I’m talking about the Thrashers!”
“I thought we were talking about the Coyotes, Gare!”
“Yes, but…..(sigh)…. do you remember….Bill, work with me….if the Coyotes actually went to Winnipeg, what would we have done when they closed the doors for the Thrashers at Phillips?”
Daly frowned. “Oh yeah, no plan C!”
Bettman practically exploded. “BINGO, Bill! No plan C, no plan B, no plan D – we had no freaking letters at all, Bill!!!”
Daly nodded gravely. “Yep, no letters Gare.”
“And what did we say about that, Bill?”
“That we would never run out of letters like that, ever, ever, ever, ever again!”
“Bang on, Bill”
Daly whistled, and smiled knowingly.
“So, what do Toronto, Seattle, and Las Vegas sound like to you, Bill? Sounds like……..”
“Bill, I do believe you’ve got this! So…..” Bettman unfolded his hands towards Daly, inviting him to continue.
“So…. In Markham, Las Vegas is plan B. In Las Vegas, Seattle is plan C. In Seattle, Markham is plan D.” Daly smiled tentatively, waiting for Bettman’s approval. Bettman just smiled like the Cheshire cat.
“Gare, are you really going to keep having divisions – I mean conferences – with different numbers of teams. I mean, 34 doesn’t divide into 4 div – conferences – evenly – does it?”
Bettman’s smile evaporated into an exasperated glare up to the heavens.
“Good lord! No, Bill!”
“But 34 doesn’t divide evenly by 4 does it?”
“NO! Remember, come on Bill, please remember, the letters. B, C D. They only work if someone……” again, Bettman unfolded his hands towards Daly, with expectation.
Daly replied slowly, “….if someone….doesn’t have a team!” He finished the sentence with a triumphant smile.
“So….Gary…..if it’s just 32, that means there’s only really 2 expansion teams in the end, right?”
Daly again – “So Gare….if there’s only 2 expansion teams, and not 4, which do you want the most – Las Vegas, or Markham?”
“Bill, I need you to answer that one for me. Consider it a quiz.”
“Uh, oh yeah, Markham.”
“Ding ding ding ding ding”, Gary practically popped his vest buttons open with the vehemence of his sound effect.
“So Gare, um, hear me out……like geez, Gare, how come you’re being so nice to those guys in Vegas?”
“Bill, remember the Thrashers, remember your letters, and remember that we’re paying the Mobil bills – shit I think we’re even paying the car insurance – for Vinnie and Peter. Come to think of it, did I remember to cut-off the car insurance for Charles up on the Island, or Brooklyn now I guess. Oh well, whatever.”
“Gare, I’ll check on that for you”.
“Never mind, Bill.”
“Gare, there were 4 cities in the article. One of them is in Canada, and they’ve almost finished their building. I don’t hear you talk much about them, Gary, but you did put them in the article. How come?”
“It’s like the Penguins in Madagascar, wanting to go to Antartica.”
“Hey Gare, can you run that by me again?”
“Well, you see Bill, like the Penguins in the New York zoo – not the ones in Pittsburgh, Bill – the people in Quebec City have already decided that they’re going to Antartica – or in their case, they’ve already built the arena.”
“So what, just because they built the arena already, we’re not going to expand there?” Daly was quite perplexed by this.
“No, no, no, Bill, of course we’re going to Quebec City. Did I ever turn down a serious opportunity to make a fortune?”
“Uh, no Gare.”
“So I’m not going to walk away from a billion dollars in future revenues this time either, my dear chum”.
“So think of it like musical chairs. Quebec is the first one to sit down. What does that mean for the others, Bill?”
“Like, they better find the last seat fast?”
“Bill, there IS hope for you.”
“So they’re the real “A” letter?”
“Got it Gare.”
“Good man, Bill!”
“So Gare, if Markham is so good, why aren’t we all over them?”
“That’s why they’re in the article, Bill.”
“So that they know we want them in the NHL. To wake up those 8 million hockey starved people in southern Ontario. To remind them that they only have one team. To get some ever-so-slow-to-the-game, some wake-me-up-and-make-me-smell-the-coffee businessman to see the dollar signs, to see the mountains of loonies….”
“Gary, I don’t think it’s kind – or smart – to insult them!”
“No, that’s what they call their dollar coins.”
“Oh. Gotcha….So Gare, where does that leave Seattle?“
“Bill, they need us – and they need that article mention – most of all.”
“Yeah, look, I promised that basketball NBA Prez that I’d help him out, in exchange for what he did for me…oh shoot, I can’t remember what it was. But I promised him a favour.”
“And look, those characters in Seattle love their old Sonics basketball team almost as much as those loonies in Winnipeg loved their Jets. (No, I’m not talking about the currency this time, Bill). But they’re falling all over themselves in Seattle, like a bunch of newborn horses. Bill, it’s pathetic! They don’t know which way to fall, let alone what street in Seattle to build their freaking replacement for their Munster house where the clock wouldn’t even be at center ice for a hockey game! Do they need help, Bill? Do they need help?”
“I think you want me to say ‘yes’, Gare.”
“You’re darned right I want you to say ‘yes’, Bill!”
Another pause. Bill was frowning, deep in thought.
“But Gare, if the loonies in Quebec are plan A, who’s plan B? Is it Markham, or is it Seattle?”. Bill continued, “Ahhhhhh, Gary I think I get it.”
“Yes Bill,” Gary responded with anticipation.
“Gary, you’re waiting for 2 things, aren’t you?”
“Go on Bill!”
“You’re waiting for someone to turn out the lights somewhere, aren’t you? You’re going to move one – maybe to Seattle, or maybe to Quebec. Then the other of those 2 pays big time for expansion…..because……”
“Bill, you’re getting me excited!”
“Gare, because your’e also waiting for the Markham boys to come through with the biggest expansion pay check in the history of pro sports! And you’ll double your money on that, because you’ll get the other suckers – sorry Gare, the other loonies – I MEAN FANS, Gare – to come up with the same amount of dollars, or loonies, or…..dollars.”
Gary smiled. “Bill, let’s talk about that bonus…..”
Join us next week, as Gary and Bill take another holiday….in Vegas.