National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman said today that he thinks he was "set up" by the NHLPA last weekend, along with Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. In an appearnace on WFAN in New York on Monday, Bettman blamed the players' union for unfairly creating the impression that a deal to save the season would be struck at Saturday's CBA negotiating session.
Instead of an agreement being reached, talks went nowhere on Saturday, leading to some bad public relations for all involved, and especially for the league.
"I think this was a set up," Bettman told Mike Francesa. "I think this was done intentionally to try and cause the type of reaction we saw all weekend. I think they were trying to position us into an offer they knew I couldn't accept - either because they wanted me to make a mistake that I couldn't get through my board (of directors), or so we would ultimately agree to something we couldn't afford."
Bettman said the whole ordeal was tougher to deal with than cancelling the season, which he did on Wednesday.
"What happened with our fans, in raising the level of expectation... I was sick to my stomach. It was more trying than what I had to do on Wednesday.
"And after Saturday, when everybody realized that they had been had, then they had a field day in the media, killing us on Sunday."
Francesa told Bettman both sides deserved the bad press for dragging the fans through that emotional roller coaster on the weekend.
"You're right," Bettman agreed, "except all we did was - all that information about a deal, a season, a press conference, the whole business of making an offer - it was all a pack of lies. I can't control the lies that are being told by whomever is telling them.
"We got criticized by people saying, 'How can you cancel the season Wednesday and then talk about undoing it on the weekend?' We never talked about undoing it.
"This is a case were it all ran amok, and none of it came from us (the league)."
Francesa then broached the pre-meeting rhetoric about Gretzky and Lemieux showing up at the meeting.
"Hockey people suggested Wayne Gretzky would only come in if the deal was getting done, that he wouldn't come in and preside over a loss," Francesa said. "The idea was that Wayne was the stamp that would get the deal done."
"That's right," Bettman agreed.
"So what you're saying is, that Wayne got set up too?"
"Sounds that way to me," said Bettman.
The union has not responded yet to Bettman's allegations.