If there is one thing anyone who follows the NHL knows, even the mere mention of the name, "Gary Bettman" evokes a response. The NHL Commish is a polarizing figure, no more so than when a new CBA is being formed, and especially when there is a strike or lockout. Everyone, from the casual hockey fan, to the players in the League, has an opinion of "Bettman", and surely aren't shy about voicing it. Admittedly, he's not my favorite person, based on what I've observed, but having never met him, my opinion is only based on the public face of the man.
There is one prevailing sentiment about Gary Bettman that is expressed over and over; whether it be in various media reports, NHL player interviews, and almost non stop on the player's Twitter accounts. The lockout is "all Gary Bettman's fault." He's been called every name under the sun, "idiot", thanks to Detroit's Ian White, to "a really mean man", thanks to a 6 or 7 year old boy I overheard at a shopping mall. The picture that's being painted of him is some power-mad little man, hell bent on ruining the NHL, laughing maniacally as he races around the NHL offices, sticking pins in NHL player dolls.
But, riddle me this, Batman (not Bettman). Who does Gary Bettman work for, and what is his job? Simplify it down, and Gary Bettman is a lawyer, hired by a group of extremely successful businessmen, to run the affairs of a branch of their respective empires.
Putting it another way; Gary Bettman is Darth Vader. Ask anyone who has seen the Star Wars movies who the villain is, and 99% will say, "Darth Vader." Cue the evil theme music, here comes the bad guy. But when, at any time, was old Darth calling the shots? Never! He was just doing what the Emperor wanted him to do. He was the face of the Evil Empire, because the Emperor wanted to stay out of the messy stuff.
That's Gary Bettman. The owners let ol' Gary do their dirty work, and take all the flak, an get boo'd where ever he goes, so that they can sit back and enjoy being the lovable guys in the luxury box up there who sign the paychecks. Gary Bettman does what his bosses tell him to do. Anyone who somehow thinks that it's the other way around, should take a long look at the people who own NHL teams. These are highly successful alpha male types, who are well past the "taking orders from others" stage of their careers. Most run multi-billion dollar companies themselves, so the $3.3 Billion NHL revenue number that's so widely reported is just another day at the office for them. Lawyers, to them, range from advisors to minions who do their bidding. So, for someone to conclude that Gary Bettman is somehow leading this group around by the noses, are giving him far too much credit. If he could do that, he should write a book and retire on the royalties, because it would be on every businessman's shelf. Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, but no Virginia, Gary Bettman is not somehow solely to blame for the NHL lockout. He's just an easy target.
The bull's eye on his back has been purposely put there, by the way. By all parties. The owners hired him, gave him a jacket with a target on it's back, and slinked away, muttering something about being too important to be captured. He gets his big bucks to be the whipping boy. The NHLPA absolutely wants Gary Bettman in that role. Nothing galvanizes a diverse group of people like an easily identifiable, singular enemy. The players want to blame Bettman, because once this is all done, they want a good relationship with their team's owners. Even the fans love to hate Gary. Just watch Gary walk out on the ice in any NHL arena, and listen to the Boo's rain down. And he does have that smarmy lawyer vibe, so it's easy to do.
But, alas, this Gary Bettman, the one man doing his best to ruin hockey, is but a figment of our collective imaginations. This lockout is not his doing, at least not without the explicit approval of the real power in the NHL, the 30 ownership groups. They tell Gary what to do, and if they wanted this to be over, it would be. Simple as that.