It is pretty easy to dislike Gary Bettman. He is the constant face of NHL labor unrest. While the NHLPA can't seem to keep the same negotiating team on their side of the table, Bettman has preened and haggled from the owners' side since they invented his position in 1993.
One of the biggest issues on the table during current negotiations between players and owners regards player salaries. They were rolled back in 2005 as a salary cap was introduced, and it is expected that the owners wish to roll them back even further. I'm wondering if a salary rollback would include Commissioner Bettman. His 2010-11 salary of nearly $8 million (we'll call it a cap hit) puts him in the top five in the NHL.
Bettman is an attorney who came to the NHL from the NBA. League ownership created his position in 1993 following the dismissal of NHL president Gil Stein. His job, as instructed by his bosses, was to sell the game to the U.S. market, end labor unrest and bring the tenured NHL owners up to speed with a more modern business approach.
Two out of three ain't bad, right? Well maybe if part of the two included a better relationship with the players. Bettman is reviled by fans and players alike. With virtually no connection to the game that he oversees, Bettman rose to prominence in the NBA in the marketing and legal department. His law background helped him rise through the ranks, eventually becoming one of (NBA commissioner) David Stern's right hand men.
If ol' Gary is still the commissioner next year, it will be 20 years on the job. Personally, I felt that the forfeiture of an entire season was inexcusable. The fact that it could realistically happen again is a crime. Bettman has always seemed to put his interests, specifically those of the people who pay him, well above that of the sport he "commissions".
There are plenty of good things he can point to—expansion, revenue, Winter Classic, player safety, etc.—that paint him favorably. His legacy could still end up as being the guy who tried to kill hockey, twice, hard.
Finding his replacement shouldn't be too tough. After all, how hard was the search to find Bettman? He was hired in 1993 after being credited for the boom in the NBA. I'm sure Michael Jordan had nothing to do with that, right?
Here are 25 suggestions to replace Bettman and why. Most, like Bettman, have no prior connection to hockey, but are savvy businessmen. They have risen to their current status through hard work and opportunistic vision. Most importantly, could they do a worse job of promoting the sport they are hired to grow?
I'll try to list some who are qualified for the job and a few that I would call "author's choice". It will be up to you to decide which is which. I think you'll find more than a few acceptable candidates on my list. Enjoy now!
John Collins is currently the COO of the NHL. He is the guy behind Gary Bettman who can stake a claim as the one responsible for all the good things that have happened under the current commissioner's reign. Collins has only been involved in the NHL since 2007, but has been a driving force in the NHL resurgence since their last lockout.
In 2010, American Business Awards named Collins an “Executive of the Year” and Collins helped the NHL achieve Sports League of the Year in 2011 by SportsBusiness Journal. His extensive resume from the NFL has served him well to make the NHL more fan friendly.
Who is Ski Austin? Why he is currently the Executive Vice President, Events & Attractions for the NBA. Logic says that Ski Austin is the perfect fit for the NHL commissioner position since his current title has nothing to do with hockey.
Here's some more info on Ski, in case you're interested. Technically, the guy that is currently holding the NBA job that Bettman had before joining the NHL is Myles Pistorius, and his bio is here. Equally unqualified but totally relevant to the NHL.
The NBA is his baby and he has grown it to a global scale. He is also Bettman's mentor and former boss. The NBA has certainly had its share of labor strife, but while Stern is an egomaniac, he knows that the Association has to come first.
While Stern is certainly not afraid to piss off someone on his own side of the negotiating table, it would be interesting to see how he would coalesce with the NHL owners and their adversaries in the NHLPA.
I guess I'll sound like a broken record here, but any billionaire or guy in a position of extreme power is going to be an egomaniac. That being said, there is no denying Vince McMahon's business acumen and ability to grow a product. As long as Vince can separate sports from "sports entertainment" he could do a good job raising the NHL profile.
I'm not an active wrestling fan or viewer, but if McMahon can take his product and make it that successful, imagine what he could do for hockey.
I don't suppose you can mention billionaires and leave Donald Trump off the list. Again, the criteria I'm looking for are extraordinary business-people who are supremely successful in the boardroom. Trump fits that description and then some. He's a great (self) promoter and would jump at the opportunity to be involved in professional sports again. Added bonus: think of all the hockey-hair jokes.
Sergey Brin and Larry Page co-founded Google and are two of the richest guys walking the planet today. I'm not suggesting a co-commissioner position, but if these two guys can develop Google in their garage, they can probably sort out the NHL labor cluster-muck.
In addition to being computer geniuses, Brin and Page are working on climate and energy projects. I'd be willing to bet that they could handle a mutually beneficial collective bargaining agreement. The hard part would be getting them interested in the job.
His status as hockey royalty makes him a likely candidate, but his failures off the ice make me wonder about the quality of the Great One's decision making. I'm almost inclined to suggest that Gretzky just wear the hockey legend "crown," smile and wave to the fans. Anymore failed business ventures or corporate pitfalls tarnish his legend.
Super Mario would have to step down as owner of the Penguins to assume the post, but he has shown intense loyalty to the sport that he loves. For every bad decision Gretzky made as an owner/coach, Lemieux seems to have the Mida's touch.
How well Lemieux's skill set as an owner would translate into a commissioner's role is debatable, but there is no doubt he would always serve the best interest of the sport.
I'm not sure if it would create any type of conflict of interest being a sports franchise owner and league commissioner for a different sport. Mark Cuban would probably love to stick it to David Stern by replacing his little prodigy in the commissioner's office.
Cuban is another super smart rich guy that seems to "get it" when it comes to sports. He is a fan/businessman and runs a model franchise in Dallas with his aptly named Mavericks. His attempts to get into baseball have been rebuked by the old guard owners and their fuddy-duddy commissioner Bud Selig.
Cuban would jump at the chance and would do a hell of a job. His long-running feud with Stern would be great for the growth and promotion of the NHL.
Bill Gates currently holds the title of "Richest Person in America" according to Forbes magazine. In fact, it's not even close. He's $20 billion wealthier than number two Warren Buffett. Chances are, Mr. Gates may be running out of things to do with his time and efforts. The biggest obstacle between Bill Gates and the NHL commissioner's post would be an interest.
Gates' sporting interests seem to be limited to tennis, but if presented with a challenge and the opportunity to add to his power and status, who knows? There is a distinct possibility that if labor negotiations don't go the way he wants, he could possibly buy the entire league.
As co-founder and CEO of Nike, Phil Knight ranks as one of the most influential men in sports. Conflict of interest could come into play with Reebok furnishing the NHL as the "official" uniform manufacturer. Knight is a master marketer and developer who could take the NHL above and beyond its wildest visions.
Nike has its hand in everything sports and you'd have to think Knight would jump at the chance to run one of the four major sports entities in North America. No doubt he would love to bring a team to his beloved Oregon. "Ladies and Gentlemen, YOUR Oregon Coyotes!!!"
Many regard the current Red Wings general manager as one of the very best in the NHL at his job. Holland has turned the Detroit franchise from historical laughing-stock to perennial Stanley Cup contender. His position as negotiator between franchise and player make him an ideal candidate to succeed Bettman at his post.
Jeff Bezos is the head of Amazon and occupant of No. 13 on Forbes' "Richest People in America." Bezos helped amass his fortune by staring down the folks over at the Apple Corporation and revolutionizing the publishing industry with the Kindle.
Chances are if Bezos can go head to head with the richest company in the world (Apple) and still develop a great product, he's a guy you want running your sports league. Like the Google geniuses though, Bezos seems more interested in space travel than sports.
I think it's fair to say that TSN analyst Bob McKenzie has a fair bit of knowledge about the sport he reports on. What a novel idea to have someone so well connected and interested in the well being of the NHL. As one of the most respected pundits on all things hockey, McKenzie would be a great fit .
As the longest tenured GM in the NHL Lou Lamoriello could make a seamless transition to the commissioner's post. New Jersey Lou has been able to evolve with the game since he took over managing duties of a very young Devils franchise in 1987. Lamoriello has the perfect amount of insider knowledge and negotiating savvy to do a great job as an NHL boss.
Bobby Orr is another former player who would probably be ineligible due to his outspoken nature, especially concerning ownership. Orr has a vested interest in the well being of the league and how the league takes care of its players during and after their careers.
As someone who was wrecked both physically and financially by the game, Orr is all too familiar with the pitfalls of corrupt leadership on both sides of the negotiating table.
The owners would never approve his selection because of his legal clashes with the NHL, but how great would it be to have Chelios as the league commissioner? He's a very smart guy, looks good in a suit and loves the game of hockey. Chelios is currently working in the Red Wing front offices in the role that Steve Yzerman held before taking the general manager position with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
I shudder to think about the possibilities if Cherry gets put in charge here, but I know the Hockey Night in Canada fans have been waiting to see when, not if, "Grapes" would be added to the list. Cherry has a pretty good read on the history of the sport, but some of his thoughts and comments are convoluted and dated.
There will never be any gray areas with Cherry at the post, but I can't imagine his direct approach to everything would have him holding the job for very long.
Kurt Russell's best days in Hollywood are probably behind him, so what better transition than to the league office in New York? Russell was memorable as Herb Brooks in Miracle, so why not have him don the plaid slacks and wear the commissioner's hat too.
Russell is a die-hard hockey fan so you know he'll do whatever it takes, including threatening to make a Tango and Cash II if no CBA can be agreed upon. "OK, OK!! We'll sign the deal, just don't call Stallone!"
You will be hard pressed to find anyone in the NHL who doesn't know more about the nuances of the game than Glen Sather. One of the great deal-makers of the game, Sather has restored his reputation with recent success as president and general manager of the New York Rangers.
When he's not eating Carl's Jr. cheeseburgers and making his children proud, David Hasselhoff is...free to take over the job as commissioner of the NHL. Not sure what the Hoff has been up to lately but a high profile job like NHL commissioner could really revamp his stagnant singing and acting career.
Bahahahahahhahahahhahahhaha, I thought you might have said Barry Melrose. Wait, no that Barry Melrose?!?!? He couldn't possibly be worse than Bettman could he? Possibly. Next!
Commissioner Jim Gordon may soon be relieved of his duties as Gotham's police commissioner, which would free up some time to take over the NHL's lead post. Gordon is a no-nonsense, hard-line negotiator who won't take crap from anyone. It is also expected that Gordon would bring his own disciplinarian to handle on ice discrepancies.
Former/current rap musician Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr., also known as Snoop Dogg or more recently Snoop Lion, has a particular style of negotiation that could make everyone agreeable. As long as there were plenty of Doritos and other "munchy" foods, the CBA could be finished in less than an hour.
The down side would be convincing Commissioner Lion not to end everything NHL-related with "-izzle."
There may not be anyone in the hockey world that makes people more uncomfortable than Pierre McGuire. Whether it is the close talking, the awkward staring or the weird and odd timed remarks, McGuire is certain to provide a sense of urgency at the negotiating table.
The perfect scenario would be for McGuire to take the commissioner's post so that we wouldn't have to see or hear him on our television hockey coverage.