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Gary Bettman's 10 Biggest Fails as NHL Commissioner

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2012

Gary Bettman's 10 Biggest Fails as NHL Commissioner

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    Gary Bettman has been the commissioner of the National Hockey League since 1993.

    When he was hired, he had the mandate from NHL ownership to make the league more viable in the United States in terms of its television contract and to bring labor peace. The league did not want to deal with any labor stoppages.

    Bettman has been commissioner during two lengthy work stoppages in his tenure. While television deals have gotten much better since 1993, the league still does not approach the NBA or Major League Baseball in what those organizations bring home. The NFL dwarfs what those two leagues bring home, so the NHL gets just a drop in the bucket compared to football.

    While it's natural for the front man of any of the major sports organization to take grief from its fans, there's nothing in the other sports that compares to the embarrassment of Bettman handing out the Stanley Cup to the league's champion.

    Unpopularity is not a mistake in itself, but it is indicative that hockey fans recognize his shortcomings.

    Here are 10 of his biggest fails as commissioner.

2004-05 Lost Season

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    There have been many work stoppages in the history of North American professional sports.

    The one that first resonated with fans was the 1972 Major League Players' strike in 1972. Since then, there have been many others that have hit all sports, but the only league to lose an entire season is the NHL.

    In 2004-05, there was no NHL season. The league locked out its players for the full season, and after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the 2004 Stanley Cup, there were no more NHL games until the 2005-06 season.

    The NHL was losing money, and Bettman wanted to show the players that major changes had to be made. He got his point across at the expense of losing an entire season.

    The continuity of handing out the championship trophy year after year was lost, and so was the entire season.

    The fair conclusion: Bettman cared more about money than he did about a hockey season.

Hard-Line Stance

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    Bettman's current hard-line stance can't be good for the game of hockey.

    He has said that the NHL would lock out its players if a new agreement is not reached by Sept. 15.

    Players and fans have endured one lost season that was incredibly painful. However, Bettman seems only too happy to threaten the loss of another season so he can cut the amount that is paid to players.

    The NHL players had a 24 percent salary rollback after the 2004-05 lockout, and that's what Bettman is once again proposing this time around (source: Yahoo.com).

    Remember, when he was hired, he was given the charge of avoiding work stoppages. He seems to be engaging the NHLPA in a game of chicken

Immaturity

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    Players' representative Donald Fehr is an experienced professional sports labor negotiator, having represented the Major League Baseball Players' Association for years.

    Fehr has acted reasonably and maturely at all stages of negotiations with the ownership. The NHLPA's counterproposal included a reduction in the players' share of income and greater revenue sharing among the member clubs.

    Instead of reacting in kind, Bettman said the NHL and the NHLPA "look at the world differently" and there "are a number of issues remaining (source: The Sports Network through San Luis Obispo.com).

    He didn't react positively to the players saying they were willing to take a smaller percentage of revenue. That's a major step, but Bettman just wants to flex his muscle.

Poor Front Man

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    It should be the NHL's crowning moment every year. One team has survived four rounds of playoffs, and it has just won the Stanley Cup.

    It is a glorious achievement and it should be a wonderful moment. Except that every year, Gary Bettman manages to steal the spotlight.

    He gets booed every year as he calls the captain of the winning team over, and it takes away from the achievement (source: ThePuckDoctors.com).

    Why does Bettman even have to be out there? Perhaps it's his ego. If he sees Roger Goodell hand out the Vince Lombardi Trophy in the NFL, he wants to hand out the hardware to his top team. Do fans remember the moment that Jonathan Toews skated around with the Stanley Cup in 2010 or Zdeno Chara got it in 2011?

    No. They remember the boos cascading down on Bettman, diminishing the moment.

Watering Down the Product

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    When Gary Bettman took over as commissioner in 1993, the NHL already had 24 teams in the league.

    That's four times as many teams as the NHL had in 1966-67, the last season before the first major expansion.

    That was substantial growth and something that no other league could claim. However, Bettman didn't stop there. The league has added six expansion teams during his tenure.

    Putting teams in cities like Atlanta and Columbus really didn't make any sense. Atlanta had already lost one team—the Flames—and the expansion Thrashers were not supported by the city either. Was there any real reason to put a team in Columbus when no other major league had a team there? Not really.

    Adding expansion teams smacks of greed because of the fees paid to the league by the new teams.

Moving Franchises

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    The relocation of a sports franchise is a traumatic event for any city. In baseball, fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers were heartbroken when their team left for Los Angeles after the 1957 season. When football's Baltimore Colts left for Indianapolis in 1984 under cover of darkness, the city was devastated.

    There have been brutal moves in sports that have hurt communities. Sports teams are not like other businesses. Fans and players are tied to their home cities.

    However, in the NHL, franchises have shown the tendency to move. The worst of those may have been the Nordiques leaving Quebec City for Denver to become the Colorado Avalanche and the Jets leaving Winnipeg to become the Phoenix Coyotes. Other moves include the Whalers leaving Hartford to become the Carolina Hurricanes and the Minnesota North Stars moving to Dallas to become the Stars.

    This indicates a lack of stability and sensitivity on the part of Bettman and the NHL. While there is talk of Quebec City once again getting an NHL franchise, there are no guarantees (source: CBCNews.com).

$8 Million Man

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    It's all about the Benjamins.

    At least it is for Gary Bettman.

    He made nearly $8 million in salary and benefits in the most recent fiscal year, according to SportsBusinessDaily.com.

    This means his salary has more than doubled since the 2004-05 lockout.

    During its negotiations with the NHLPA, the NHL claims the current system does not allow enough of its member clubs to make a profit, and therefore, players must take a salary cut.

    Bettman is the author of this system, and he is living well.

    Bettman must agree with Wall Street's Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas). "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good," said Gekko

Undercutting Brendan Shanahan

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    Gary Bettman does not like to let his lieutenants do their job.

    He likes to put his own stamp on all areas of the NHL.

    That includes chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, who issued a 25-game suspension to Raffi Torres of the Phoenix Coyotes for his vicious head shot on Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks during the most recent playoff season.

    Torres decided to appeal the suspension and Bettman heard his appeal. He decided to reduce the suspension by four games (source: FoxSports.com).

    That sends a message that the NHL is not as serious about preventing injuries and ridding itself of illegal head shots as it likes to say it is.

    It can't make Shanahan feel too good knowing any of his decisions could be undercut at any time.

Realignment Plan

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    The NHL came out with a realignment plan last year that would have seen the league go from two conferences with three divisions each to four conferences (source: NHL.com).

    The main reason for wanting to realign was cutting travel costs for teams that felt burdened by geographical concerns.

    However, prior to coming out with its proposal, the NHL did not get approval from the NHLPA. The players did not approve of the proposal and rejected it.

    In addition to failing to get approval from its partner, the four-conference proposal would have had a negative impact on the NHL's crown jewel, the postseason.

    Each conference would conduct its own playoffs until the final four teams remained. Then those teams would meet in the semifinals and finals.

    That would have assured that each conference would have nearly the same playoff matchups season after season, creating a sense of been-there, done-that to some of the most classic matchups.

    Bettman did not see it that way.

Fraudulent Spano Ownership

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    In the NHL, you have to have substantial money to buy and own a franchise.

    Apparently, that has not always been the case while Gary Bettman has been the NHL commissioner.

    The league found itself victimized by a con man who did not have enough capital when it allowed the Islanders to be bought by a businessman named John Spano in 1997 (source: SI.com).

    Eventually, the NHL caught on and took control of the franchise, but the NHL had fallen down on the job when it came to protecting its own franchises. Spano was later prosecuted for his actions (source: SI.com).

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