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  1. I felt this should be a dedicated thread rather than losing it in the lockout megathread. I picked up The Instigator last week and enjoyed it thoroughly. I highly recommend it to anyone here who's been following our hockey threads. What's great about it is that a lot of it is stuff we already knew, or thought we already knew. This sounds like it would be useless at first glance, but there's a strange sort of joy that comes from seeing our various rumors and postulations more or less confirmed, printed on real, tangible paper. Here are a few quick hits I wanted to share, more will come to me. I should've written them all down on a notepad, but instead I just underlined them on the pages. Stupid. Onward: Bruce McNall may be even more of a villain than we give him credit for, and we've given him a very good deal of credit as it is. During the league's search to replace John Ziegler, McNall took it upon himself to make David Stern a huge job offer, which Stern declined (well duh), but not without pointing him in the direction of Gary Bettman. Thanks. The 1993 expansion arose from the fact that McNall had greatly lied about his finances and needed a cash infusion badly. We knew about the whole racket with selling Disney and Anaheim on the NHL only to turn around and demand indemnification for Los Angeles, but it turns out that he engineered the expansion to Miami as well, when he failed to sell Wayne Huizenga a private jet but succeeded in selling him an NHL franchise (as usual when it comes to the NHL, I cannot make this math add up). He did the old "play one against the other" trick to perfection, telling Disney that Blockbuster was gonna get in on hockey instead, and vice versa, and ended up collecting a finder's fee for the Panthers as well as half the expansion fee for the Ducks. As it happens, The Mighty Ducks grossed $50MM, the price Disney paid to buy in, so at least that ends up being some tidy math. Golden quote from Huizenga here: "It wasn't that I wanted a hockey team, but the opportunity was there to get one." When a book is written about sunbelt expansion, it will be entitled It Wasn't That I Wanted This. Oh and McNall never got all the money owed to him by Disney and he went to prison for fraud. Now, technically, we can't actually say that Bruce McNall was sentenced to federal prison for subjecting the world to Gary Bettman, so let's just think of it as how they got Capone for tax evasion. So for years, the NHL was basically run out of some guy's basement. Ziegler said the league had no monthly financial statements when he took over. Ziegler gets a bum rap from a lot of people, author included, for being kind of distant and not enough of a hardliner for his bosses (sounds a little like Fay Vincent), but to me, Ziegler sounds closer to what we as fans would want in an NHL commissioner: intelligent businessman with a background in the game and a desire for good stewardship of it. It's funny that the '92 strike was such a transgression that he was fired for it almost immediately. No one even remembers the '92 strike now. Meanwhile, we've lost a season and a half and counting under Bettman, and he just keeps getting raises. Gotta laugh. Also gotta laugh at the NHL's central office, which on Ziegler's watch was adorned with little more than "pictures of horses." I hope it had paneling and a davenport, too. The NHL got this office space, surely for a song, from a stockbroker who went to prison for insider trading and left his furniture behind because it was too heavy to move. The NHL, financial malfeasance, and general inertia: together always. Given the relative hole-in-the-wall nature of the office at the time, it is to be believed that erstwhile league executive Brian Burke has a disturbingly laissez-faire attitude toward spraying his piss on the floor. There's another anecdote about the re-envisioning of the league's then-quiet nerve center wherein Burke walks into the men's room to find our hero on his hands and knees, removing wet toilet paper from the floor (ew!). Burke says to just let the janitors take care of it, prompting Bettman to get up off the floor and deliver a stern lecture on the importance of maintaining a clean bathroom for co-workers and guests. As we sit here in this lockout discussing salary clawbacks, all we have to do is look at what the Leafs are paying guys to realize that twenty years later, Gary Bettman still has to clean up the messes Brian Burke makes with his waste. I'm loath to use a moisture metaphor after that, but I gotta say, no one gives Bettman more wet kisses in this book than ol' Burkie does. You know what those are? Those are the words of a man who knows he's soon going to be fired for his gross incompetence and will have nowhere left to go but the loving embrace of Bettman's office. For obvious reasons (the whole redemption angle and the author being Canadian), Winnipeg gets the most attention of the Southbound Four. There are a few interesting nuggets about the Nordiques' relocation (the deal was in the works way longer than anyone had been letting on, though the author biffs it by saying the team was sold to "Comcast" when the name of the Denver consortium was COMSAT), but there's only mere lip service toward the North Stars (who were at one point targeted for Anaheim as well as the Bay Area, the latter we knew, the former I sure didn't), and virtually nothing is said of the Whalers' ignominious move to Raleigh by way of Greensboro. This surprises me, as I have a lot of enmity for this maneuver, and feel it looked just as bad as Winnipeg-to-Phoenix, if not worse -- it sacrificed a small American market for another small American market where people are obsessed with a sport that runs at the same time as ours. There's a whole chapter on the Jets departure and re-arrival, plus another on the fate of those old Jets. The book should practically come with a Burton Cummings promotional single. Much of this is stuff we already know, like how Bettman scuttled the local sale by inventing extra conditions that they couldn't meet, or how the Jets were ten minutes away from coming home in 2010, but it's a good refresher if nothing else. So, turns out Atlanta got its team at the behest of bean-counting Fox Sports executives, and since these were also the people behind Glow Puck and Battling Seizure Hockey Robots, you'd kind of have to figure the whole thing was doomed from the outset, wouldn't you? The author is hard on the good old Unstable Octet, saying they set an international standard for dysfunction. They'd have flipped the team in a year if not for the lockout and the Joe Johnson trade causing the whole ownership group to eat itself. The Thrashers got dicked by revenue sharing, too, as failing to hit benchmarks knocked their payout down to 50% of what it could have been. (The Coyotes get special dispensation to miss benchmarks and still get full payouts, remember.) Mark Chipman gets a lot of love everywhere for everything, but here the adoration is conspicuously focused on his discipline in keeping his mouth shut through the Coyotes situation and eventual Thrashers sale. You almost have to wonder if the author, whose culture-war allegiances are veiled but obvious, is HINT-HINTing to the almost congenitally loudmouthed Quebecois as they try to swing a deal of their own. Over on the Phoenix side, there's really nothing we haven't done to death, but like I said, there's a certain thrill in reading it on paper, and I'm sure I'll feel the same when Glenfail becomes a tome unto itself. The real breakthrough to me is that the union has now gone on the record and said what we all figured out long ago: that the Coyotes exist solely as a hedge on escalating revenues to keep cash-flush teams from having to invest more of this new big money back in their teams. This from the same league that dropped the hammer on the Devils for...yes, that's right, manipulating an arithmetic mean. The book makes some efforts, however perfunctory, to humanize its subject, touching on what a devoted family man he is and how he goes incognito to Devs games with his grandson, which is kind of cute. He had a pretty crappy childhood, too. People, especially Brian Burke, swear up and down that he's not a bad guy when you get to know him. That may be so, but it's not insignificant (stewardess? I speak Bettman) that everyone who's "not a bad guy when you get to know him" is already being a monstrous dickhole in some significant capacity. It's also made quite clear that Bettman is a fast learner and a razor-sharp legal mind, something which some of his more ineloquent detractors could stand to grasp. They could also stand to grasp that no, Bill Simmons, he wasn't sent by the NBA to take down the NHL from within (though it is telling that Stern not only turned down the NHL gig himself but wouldn't let them poach his top lieutenant, Russ Granik, either). In fact, a lot of what Bettman did had to be done: the league needed to be ready to enter the 21st century when it most clearly was not. I'm not talking about ill-advised expansion/relocation, most of which was planned by Ziegler and executed by McNall, but just, I dunno, good god, being a functional professional sports league and not just some group of rich old white men running a hockey league in their spare time, or over five-martini lunches, or whatever. All that being said, who's to say that all these necessary developments couldn't have been made by someone who wasn't Gary Bettman? I mean, yes, like I said, it's clear that he's intelligent, but how many other detail-oriented, Type-A labor lawyers are out there who could have marshaled the owners into something resembling order and done all the things that did have to be done, without all the messes that Bettman distinctly made along the way? That's the real question. You couldn't have found that guy in the skyscrapers of Toronto? or Montreal? Someone with a big brain and the requisite understanding of the game so as to avoid so many of the misfires we had with Bettman? Buying this book should be the only hockey-related spending you do during the lockout.