6 Positive Things for Which Gary Bettman Will Be Remembered

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2012

6 Positive Things for Which Gary Bettman Will Be Remembered

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    Richard Nixon had his share of defenders.

    Despite the criminal behavior that he engaged in that led to his resignation from the office of President of the United States, Nixon had his supporters.

    They usually pointed to his overall intelligence and his acumen at foreign relations.

    But those who supported him toned it down as his role in the Watergate cover-up was exposed and he was forced to leave his position.

    Gary Bettman has strengths as commissioner of the NHL. However, he is presiding over the third lockout of his tenure.

    In a sport that has struggled to play with the big boys—it is clearly No. 4 in the United States behind the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA—locking your players out and keeping the sport's passionate and devoted fans at bay is an awful way to do your job.

    Especially when one of the tenets of your original hiring was to keep labor peace (source: New York Times).

    Nevertheless, there are some positive things on Bettman's NHL resume. None of these mitigate the labor unrest that has been so prevalent during his term as commissioner, but they are worth recognizing.

Left the Basics of the Game Alone

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    Gary Bettman is often criticized for his non-hockey background and that he doesn't understand the game.

    He was an executive who worked for David Stern prior to becoming the NHL's commissioner in 1993.

    However, Bettman has not tried to alter the way the game is played.

    Despite the hue and cry that is often associated with hockey violence, Bettman has never thrown his weight behind eliminating fighting from the game.

    That has to resonate with any coach, fan or player who loves "old-school hockey" and the sense of justice that is obviously a part of the game.

Professionalism

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    There are some real problems with franchises like the Phoenix Coyotes, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders. The NHL is trying to facilitate new ownership for the Coyotes while it addresses the debt of the Devils and the arena problems of the Islanders.

    However, before the Bettman regime, there was a host of franchises with tons of problems. The St. Louis Blues were run by owners who wanted to take the team to Saskatoon. The Oakland Seals became the Cleveland Barons and then they were conjoined with the Minnesota North Stars.

    The Devils started off as the Kansas City Scouts and became the Colorado Rockies before moving to New Jersey.

    The good, old days before the Bettman regime were not so good. Steve Maich of Sportsnet.Ca called the pre-Bettman NHL "The Gong Show."

Arenas

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    Bettman has been influential when it comes to building new arenas.

    Since he became commissioner in 1993, 25 of the league's 30 teams (source: Sportsnet.Ca) have had new arenas built. That shows a commitment to getting the best facilities for the players and the fans.

Television

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    The NHL has a 10-year, $2 billion deal with NBC and NBC Universal.

    This deal was signed in 2011 and the NHL chose to join with NBC and reject potential partnerships with ESPN and Turner.

    The deal includes broadcasting 100 games per year on NBC network and NBC cable properties. All playoff games past the first round are nationally televised by NBC (network or cable).

    Prior to the NBC deal, the NHL was treated disdainfully by all the television networks. This deal gives hockey increased status as a sport and in business.

Winter Classic

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    The Winter Classic is one of the greatest modern promotions in recent sports history.

    The NHL recognized that New Year's Day was no longer being used properly by college football.

    Instead of playing all of its key bowl games on New Year's Day, it spread them out over the holiday season. The remaining games on New Year's Day were no longer commanding or compelling.

    The NHL marched into the void and claimed it for its own with an outdoor hockey game that has been played at well-known baseball and football stadiums.

    The first, in 2008, saw the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres play a tight game that ended with the snow falling at Ralph Wilson Stadium, creating a snow-globe effect. The Penguins won that game 2-1 in a shootout.

    The next day, people who were previously not interested in hockey were talking about the beauty of the sport.

    It has continued to grow since then and the "outdoor game" is now a New Year's Day tradition.

International Hockey

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    The quality of hockey played around the world is at a very high level.

    The level of hockey played in the Olympics is probably as impressive as the level of soccer (football) played at the World Cup.

    Under Gary Bettman's regime, NHL players have been allowed to participate in the Olympics. Time has been taken out of the NHL season so players could play for their countries. The results have been some of the most exciting and well-played games in the sport's history.

    The NHL also has played several of its season-opening games in Europe to help promote the growth of the league and show off its product.