Next on Oprah: Gary Bettman

The NHL commish is sorry, writes Scott Feschuk. So all is forgiven, right?

photo illustration by taylor shute

Gary Bettman says he’s “sorry.” Sorry for the lockout. Sorry for the whole “no hockey” thing. Sorry for Russell Crowe’s singing voice in Les Miz. Any more sorry and the NHL commissioner would be legally required to submit to a two-part interview with Oprah.

Jeremy Jacobs—the man who owns the Boston Bruins, serves as chairman of the NHL board of governors, and is so cheap he would fistfight a hobo over a nickel—would like it known that he, too, is sorry. In fact, he’s so sorry that he’s “truly sorry.” Jacobs went on: “Our only interest now is to focus on what this great game can provide to the best sports fans in the world. Now gimme that five cents, Boxcar McGee!”

Jacobs is not alone. Pretty much all NHL owners are saying they’re sorry for doing that thing they did for 113 consecutive days and planned to do for a year before that and will probably do again at the next possible opportunity. It’s not an emotion—it’s a marketing strategy. Real hockey fans know Gary Bettman hasn’t truly been sorry since Gap Kids stopped making his favourite blazer. (An aside: he’s been commissioner for 20 years, but when they show Bettman at a game, I always imagine him whispering to his guest, “What’s ‘icing’ mean?”)

Watching the owners pretend they’re so sorry, so profoundly saddened, has made me angrier than the lockout itself. But what am I going to do—not watch the games? These bedsores aren’t going to create themselves.

Hockey is back! A deal was brokered. The agreement was ratified. Players gathered for training camp or, as it was known this year: Tuesday. The 2013 regular season will extend to the end of April, which means the Stanley Cup final will conclude right around the third game of next season. Let me know how it ends—I’ll be Christmas shopping.

There are some things about the lockout that we’re all going to miss. I, for one, am already nostalgic for the sight of sports reporters trying to do math. And kudos to whomever decided to force the media to wait outside during negotiations in New York. Who can forget all the breaking news delivered through chattering teeth? This just in from the n-n-negotiating table: sources say it’s p-p-pastrami on r-r-rye for lunch!

In keeping with the “we’re sorry” theme, NHL teams are offering a variety of promotions to coax fans back to the rink. The Ottawa Senators are giving out free tickets to kids. Tampa Bay is selling season’s seats for $200 apiece. And the Phoenix Coyotes are tricking people inside with a sign saying, “Free puppies.”

Perhaps the most novel incentive, though, is being provided by Montreal, which is luring back fans with a solemn promise that Scott Gomez will never, ever play for the Canadiens again.

Have you been following this story? A few years back, Gomez signed a $50-million contract—and over time, he has proved to be worth every penny of exactly $10 of it. If you have a friend who’s a Montreal fan, and you don’t want him to be your friend anymore, just ask him about the time Gomez went a full calendar year without scoring a goal. Make sure you have a cloth handy to deal with all the mouth foam.

Anyway, Montreal wants to cut ties with Gomez this summer—but by rule, they can’t do it if he’s injured. So the Canadiens have sent him home and will pay Gomez $67,073 for each and every game of hockey he does not play this season. One unfortunate consequence is that we’ll all have to listen to some asshat at work going on about how he’d be willing to stay home for the day for $67,073, haha. That’s great, Carl—now would you please change the freaking toner??

It’s a good thing the lockout ended when it did. Although it’s been fun to watch Don Cherry slowly lose his mind from boredom and frustration, we were beginning to tread some pretty awkward territory. This week, Cherry used Twitter to extensively discuss his affection for . . . goldfish. I am not making this up. “I’ve had goldfish all my life,” Cherry tweeted. “They’ve always been fancy goldfish.” If it’s possible to back slowly away from an electronic message, that’s what Canada did. Another week without NHL hockey and surely Cherry would have moved on to a discussion of his leg moles. This one here looks kinda like an apple!

So maybe we owe you one after all, Bettman.

Follow Scott Feschuk on Twitter @scottfeschuk