We're halfway through Gary Bettman's 15th year as the first ever Commissioner of the National Hockey League.
Bettman has been labeled in hockey circles as "controversial", an acceptable moniker considering the decisions Bettman has made pertaining to the NHL.
Like him or hate him, he's lived up to that moniker quite well.
With the latest news coming out that the NHL is asking a bankruptcy court to throw out Canadian-billionaire Jim Balsillie's bid to buy the Phoenix Coyotes, it drove me to think this...
This act isn't one by the NHL owners themselves, but one perpetrated by Gary Bettman as well.
Let's face the facts, folks. Gary Bettman doesn't want Balsillie to take full control of the Phoenix Coyotes, despite their dire financial situation, because Balsillie wants to move the team to Hamilton, Ontario.
Bettman doesn't want another team in Canada, plain and simple. It pains me to say that, because being the die-hard hockey fan that I am, I know the history and tradition of hockey in Canada. Hockey was invented in Canada. Unfortunately, under the direction of Mr. Bettman, the NHL lost two of the more popular Canadian NHL franchises, in Quebec and Winnipeg, because of Bettman's efforts to "Americanize" the game of hockey and the NHL.
Hockey was a Canadian-based sport that transferred itself into the lower 50 United States. It would make sense to have hockey played in a number of Canadian provinces, because of the hockey tradition in Canada.
Before Bettman took his place as NHL Commissioner in 1993, hockey in Canada had NHL teams in Montreal, Toronto, Quebec City, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, and Edmonton.
Bettman, in his attempt to "Americanize" the game of hockey, relocated the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix, and the Quebec Nordiques to Colorado. Bettman did this despite the efforts of the cities to keep their franchises, and refused to stop the relocation process, because they were smaller market teams that were going through financial issues at the time. Bettman decided against keeping the franchises in Quebec and Winnipeg around in favor of moving them to American hockey markets. Reports at the time said repeated attempts by the NHL to keep the two teams in their respective cities fell through. In reality, though, Mr. Bettman didn't try hard enough to keep those teams in Canada, despite their respective large fan bases in their cities.
So, why is it different now that the Phoenix Coyotes are going through the same financial trouble that the Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets were going through before being relocated? Is this Bettman's way of saying that he'll do whatever it takes to keep a team that has lost $30 million in each of the last three seasons, in Arizona for the sake of the "Americanization" of the game?
Phoenix, in my opinion, didn't show much interest in an NHL franchise at the time of Winnipeg's demise. But, rather the franchise was forced into Phoenix after Phoenix businessmen Steven Gluckstern and Richard Burke, along with a local investor group, bought the team and moved them to Phoenix.
People in Canada, and Winnipeg and Quebec in general, are still bitter towards Bettman's relocation of Quebec and Winnipeg. They had huge fan bases in those two cities, but the chance of moving them to the US to further Americanize the game of hockey was too good for him to pass up, apparently.
It looks to me as if Bettman is trying to prove a point...that point being he doesn't want another team in Canada, even though Jim Balsillie wants to buy a franchise in dire straits and move them to a city that they'll flourish in, and that fans in that city will care about and pay attention to.
Why do you think Bettman is trying to convince NHL owners to stop Jim Balsillie from buying the Phoenix Coyotes, even though they are in a huge financial crisis? It's because Balsillie has stated on numerous cases that if he purchased an NHL team, he would move them to Hamilton, Ontario. And, I have a hard time believing this is an effort by the NHL owners alone to stop Balsillie from buying the Coyotes, because he's "untrustworthy" and "not willing to comply to league rules and would not be a good business partner," according to Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and Wild Owner Craig Leipold, who are heading the effort to stop Balsillie's bidding for the Coyotes. The die-hard hockey fan, like myself, looks at this as an effort by Bettman as well, with him leading the herd of owners and them buying into his philosophy on this issue with Balsillie.
Bettman has been accused by hockey fans of having an "Anti-Canadian" agenda, along with Canadian and Northern United States' fans heavily criticizing Bettman for moving NHL teams away from "traditional hockey markets".
Recently, a group of local businessmen in Quebec City have even reached out to the NHL and expressed interest in having another NHL team there, but Bettman has shown no interest in putting one there.
It's sad that hockey fans like myself have to look at Bettman in such a negative light, especially on this issue. But, his reputation precedes him with some of the more unpopular decisions he's made in his tenure as NHL Commissioner, all apparently for the betterment of the game.
Before I go on, I'll give credit where credit is due...
Under the direction of Gary Bettman, the NHL has skyrocketed its league revenue from $400 million when he was hired, to $2.27 billion. That is an unbelievable turnaround from where the NHL stood in revenue under Gil Stein, who served as the NHL's final President of the league.
But, under his direction, there has been a lot of wrongs taken place as well, including...
-Two labor stoppages that caused die-hard hockey fans to lose interest in the game. These could've been avoided if he would've been more involved in the negotiations between the NHLPA and the Union, rather than being the "moderator" and sitting on his hands, waiting for something to get done while the two fought like a married couple. Having a college degree in law and abor relations like Bettman does, you would think he'd know a little something about labor stoppages. If he served a more prominent role in the two labor stoppages the NHL has endured under his tenure, I would have to believe the two lockouts may never have happened, and if they did, they would've been significantly shorter than what they were.
-Relocating the Minnesota North Stars and Hartford Whalers to Dallas and Carolina, respectively. Those were two franchises rich in hockey tradition, moved to the lower half of the United States in an attempt to garner attention from parts of the US southern states that weren't used to the game, or interested in to begin with. I understand this expansion effort was aimed at growing the sport of hockey, especially with the younger age group, But it was done at the expense of franchises rich in hockey tradition falling on tough financial times, like Hartford and Minnesota, along with the previously-mentioned Winnipeg and Quebec. Given, Bettman did correct one of his wrongs by putting a franchise back in Minnesota. But, putting an expansion team back in Minnesota never had the same feel or gained the same attention of the Minnesota-faithful, nor is it nearly as popular with the fans in Minnesota like when the North Stars were "their" team.
-Refusing to offer ESPN a reasonable contract to show NHL games, fresh out of the 2004-05 lockout. A smart hockey person would've figured that, coming out of a lockout year, dis-interest in the NHL would be at a high-level. So, if you're Gary Bettman, why would you ask for an insane amount of money from ESPN to show your league's games on National television? If he would've re-negotiated the $60 million option on ESPN's television contract to a more reasonable, acceptable price considering the circumstances, ESPN would still be showing the NHL. Instead, Bettman went a different route and chose to show the NHL on the Outdoor Life Network, now called Versus, for three years at $207.5 million. Versus is a channel not shown in every household, except if you have a cable or satellite package that carries it. So, in reality, you put the NHL and its games on a channel that select people, which includes die-hard hockey fans, get to watch...but only if they have the channel. Not a smart move on his part. Not only that, but he allows Versus to have first dibs on a playoff game over CBC, one of the most popular channels in Canada, even if its one of the Canadian teams playing. This isn't the first time it's happened, though. In 1994, Bettman did the same thing to CBC and its playoff coverage when he signed on with FOX to televise the NHL. Basically, Bettman in his "Americanization" of the NHL, is thumbing his nose at Canada, who invented the game of hockey, and its fans on this issue as well. Because of this move in National TV coverage, TV ratings for NHL games, including the playoffs, have gone down considerably comapred to the TV ratings before the ESPN/FOX/Versus switch.
Gary Bettman is, in fact, a controversial commissioner because of the business decsisions he's made. There's no other way to put it. He has his detractors and backers, from fans and past and present players alike. Us hockey fans have seen 15 years of the NHL under the control of a man that was never a "hockey guy" to begin with, coming from the NBA at the time of his hiring.
What do you, the hockey fans, think of Mr. Bettman?
Is he good or bad for the game of hockey?
What are your likes and dislikes of him and the decisions he makes regarding the NHL?
Feel free to share your opinions. I'd love to hear feedback from you, the fans of the game that help keep it alive and running strong.