Gary Bettman doesn’t know how he got here.
It’s late, and Gary doesn’t know this part of town. He’s looking for something. For someone, more specifically, someone he isn’t even sure exists. As cold, unsympathetic rain falls fat and heavy, Gary searches the streets, scanning the ever-contracting and ever-expanding urban labyrinth for a landmark, a guidepost, anything to tell him that he’s on the right path. See, Gary needs a favor.
The NHL is lagging far, far behind the other major American professional sports leagues in revenue, television viewership, and general share of the comely US sports market. He’s overseen three work-stopping lockouts in his career, and he looks like the Lamisil toe-fungus monster. It’s been a rough spell for Gary. But he’s heard whispers of an immortal, supernatural power that can reverse even the worst fortunes–for a price. An ancient force, hated by legions and feared by all, is willing to make a deal with Gary to right the NHL’s ship. Bettman turns a corner, and there he is, backlit by demons and shrouded in sin itself.
“Jaromir,” Gary mutters.
Jagr unfurls his luxurious hair and it cascades to his feet, surrounded by the bones of vanquished defensemen and the shattered masks of foolhardy goalies.
“I’ve been waiting over six thousand years for you to come to me, Gary,” the Prince of Dankness coos, his mullet snapping hungrily at the flies that flit about in the pale light. “It’s time, you know.”
Bettman gulps, clears his throat to speak, and swallows again. The words fail him. Does he really dare ask for his heart’s fondest wish?
“Say it, Gary. Say it aloud,” the ancient Czech Beelzebub instructs, sipping blood from an upturned Jofa helmet.
“I need a bunch of superstar teenagers to make ESPN give a shit, and I need them all on different Canadian teams!” Bettman yelps.
“HAHA!” Jagr bellows triumphantly. “Excellent! Tired of waiting for Canada to get its act together, eh? Can’t bear another playoffs without a single club from your most important market?” He cackles with malevolent delight. “How predictable!”
Bettman, becoming indignant, puffs himself up to his full 4’11”.
“Now wait just one minute, you-”
“SILENCE!” Jagr booms, surprisingly vigorously for a 10,000-year-old demon. “I will make you an offer. First, there will come one, pure and free from reproach from the House of David, and he will be called Conor, Son of David.”
Bettman leans in intently.
“He shall be sacrificed to the Temple of Edmonton.”
“No!” Bettman cries.
“Then! There shall be a miraculous sign. The soothsaying Orb of Fortune shall return one year hence, and this time, it shall not say ‘Oilers!’”
“Yes?…” Bettman waits impatiently.
“It shall read, ‘Toronto!’ And the Maple Leafs shall know and take in the one called Aus-Ton, of the House of Matthew,” Jagr reveals.
“Praise Jaromir!” Bettman exclaims, tears of joy along with the tiniest bit of urine running down his front.
“The same year,” Jagr continues, “shall come another! From Finland, he shall be called Patrik Laine, for not all naming conventions are antiquated. He will lead Winnipeg from atop their Western throne, from ignominy to glory.”
Bettman, fully prone and weeping, basks in the reflected glow of his demonic provider.
“What-…what do you want in return, oh great long-haired goblin king?”
At this, Jagr smiles. A nasty, poisoned grin creeps its way up his wrinkled face, and he peers down upon Bettman like a wolf looking upon a sick lamb.
“Gary, are you trying to…negotiate with me?” Jagr says.
“Because I seem to recall, back in my playing days, that you didn’t like to negotiate with players. I seem to remember you being very unwilling to negotiate.”
“Jaromir, come on, that was years ago…” Bettman stammers.
“I remember you would rather lock them out.”
“And so I will give you your league-saving superstars…on the condition that you spend eternity locked in your own personal hell with me!”
And so it came to be that Gary Bettman was doomed to wander the earth getting booed everywhere he goes, arguing about concussions, and hosting a call-in radio show with drunk hockey fans.
Jason Rogers is a hockey writer who covers the Washington Capitals from the Verizon Center’s secret crypt. Follow him on Twitter, if you dare.