What Gary Bettman did to hockey

A brief sum­mary of the NHL com­mis­sioner’s 24-year ca­reer

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Emre Benoit- Savci Sports Writer

Yes, he can hardly skate, but there is a lot more to hate about the Na­tional Hockey League com­mis­sioner of 24 years. As the fi­nal sec­onds of reg­u­la­tion time dur­ing game six of the 2017 Stan­ley Cup Play­offs came to a close, the me­dia could be seen rink­side get­ting ready to storm the ice. When the buzzer rang, it be­came of­fi­cial: the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins had won their sec­ond Stan­ley Cup in a row. Out came the cel­e­bra­tions, the laughs, and the tears. Then came Gary Bettman to de­liver the Stan­ley Cup to the vic­tors. Cue the boos…

Why this in­ces­sant boo­ing oc­curs ev­ery time Bettman ap­pears is of lit­tle mys­tery to the world of hockey. Gary Bettman of­ten seems like the worst per­son in the sport— if not on earth. The man is so universally hated that even a city like Nashville, whose hockey team would not ex­ist were it not for him, can still find cause to boo him. So this begs the ques­tion, why do we boo Gary Bettman? One can point to the new hockey team in Las Ve­gas, a city whose tem­per­a­ture can reach above forty de­grees Cel­sius on a nor­mal sum­mer day. This team is just the lat­est man­i­fes­ta­tion of Bettman’s ob­ses­sion with ex­pand­ing into non- tra­di­tional south­ern mar­kets at the ex­pense of more pas­sion­ate Cana­dian and North­east­ern U. S. mar­kets.

In 1993, Bettman was ap­pointed as the com­mis­sioner of the Na­tional Hockey League ( NHL) by the own­ers of the league based on a man­date of ex­pan­sion. Ever since the be­gin­ning of his ten­ure he has pur­sued an ag­gres­sive ( of­ten mis­guided) ex­pan­sion into non- tra­di­tional hockey mar­kets. While this has been great for the league with re­gard to tele­vi­sion pack­ages and the “sell­ing of the game,” teams in Nashville, Ari­zona, and At­lanta have been largely fi­nan­cially un­sta­ble. Gary Bettman has been de­lib­er­ately try­ing to “Amer­i­can­ize” the game and sell it to a de­mo­graphic that is clearly not in­ter­ested. These ag­gres­sive moves also come at the ex­pense of the tra­di­tional, loyal Cana­dian mar­kets. The lat­est ex­pan­sion to Las Ve­gas is an­other ex­am­ple of his stub­born re­fusal to give the ma­jor­ity of fans what they want. In 2007, he re­fused to al­low a sale that would have moved the Nashville Team to Hamil­ton. He also re­fused to look for a seller for Phoenix that wouldn’t keep the team in Ari­zona, de­spite cost­ing the league mil­lions an­nu­ally due to lack of sup­port there. The ag­gres­sive ex­pan­sion into the sun­belt af­fects not only the Cana­dian cities with­out teams but also the seven Cana­dian teams cur­rently in the NHL. Ever since the nineties, the pur­suit of south­ern Amer­i­can mar­kets by Bettman has caused a drain in Cana­dian tal­ent’s will­ing­ness to sign with Cana­dian teams. This means that Cana­dian teams are of­ten un­able to com­pete with the higher salaries and big­ger TV au­di­ences of their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts.

If Bettman’s bla­tant dis­re­gard for smaller, more pas­sion­ate Cana­dian mar­kets is not frus­trat­ing enough to the league’s fans, his mis­man­age­ment of labour re­la­tions is­sues should be. While Bettman was pri­mar­ily brought on to ex­pand the game to US mar­kets, he was also given the man­date of end­ing labour un­rest within the league, some­thing he has failed mis­er­ably to ac­com­plish. The NHL and the NHL Play­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion ( NHLPA) have re­mained at odds over pen­sions, player safety mea­sures, and Olympic par­tic­i­pa­tion. Since his ten­ure, the league has had three labour stop­pages, one caus­ing the en­tire sea­son to be can­celled. The NHL un­der Bettman has pur­sued an agenda with com­plete dis­re­gard for the play­ers, the fans, and the over­all game in favour of sat­is­fy­ing the team own­ers. With each col­lec­tive agree­ment’s ter­mi­na­tion, the league has pur­sued agen­das to fur­ther lower salaries in or­der to ex­pand the own­ers’ rev­enues.

Fur­ther­more, as more re­search is con­ducted into the long-term ef­fects of con­cus­sions on men­tal health, Bettman has made only the most to­ken ef­forts to ad­dress the prob­lem even as for­mer en­forcers like Derek Boogaard, Wade Be­lak, and Bob Probert are dy­ing from prob­lems that are clearly hockey-re­lated. Bettman shows a dan­ger­ous dis­re­gard for both play­ers’ labour rights and their per­sonal safety.

The cur­rent dis­pute be­tween the NHLPA and the NHL con­cerns Olympic par­tic­i­pa­tion, as Bettman has for­bid­den NHL play­ers to com­pete in the 2018 Win­ter Olympics. While the NHLPA at­tempted in vain to over­turn this de­ci­sion, Bettman in­sisted that the play­ers not com­pete, as the Olympics in­ter­rupt the NHL sea­son (and his pay­check, of course). The NHL now con­sid­ers the mat­ter closed, al­though the NHLPA in­sists that this de­ci­sion will fur­ther sour re­la­tions be­tween the two or­ga­ni­za­tions.

While Bettman can con­tinue to point to the con­tin­u­ing growth of the NHL as it pur­sues larger mar­kets, his in­dif­fer­ence to the de­mands of the play­ers has ar­guably cre­ated a more volatile league than the one he in­her­ited, as each ter­mi­na­tion of the col­lec­tive agree­ment re­sults in an­other la­bor stop­page. This has hurt no­body more than the av­er­age hockey fan, which is per­haps the sole uni­fy­ing point for fans from Mi­ami to Ed­mon­ton.

And if that isn’t enough for you, the last Cana­dian team to win the Stan­ley cup were the 1993 Mon­treal Cana­di­ens— the same year that Gary Bettman be­came the com­mis­sioner.

Louis Sanger | The Mcgill Daily

Bettman’s pri­or­i­ties.

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