The Best Decisions of the Gary Bettman Era
As the commissioner of the NHL, Gary Bettman gets a lot of criticism for his involvement in three work stoppages during his tenure, but the fact remains that he has made several good decisions as the league's top guy.
The NHL has come a long way since 1993, and Bettman has had his hands in a lot of the positives along the way. Instead of dwelling in the negative, here are some of the best decisions of the Bettman era.
Canadian Assistance Program
Although the NHL's largest market and audience is in Canada, at one point most Canadian markets, outside of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, were not financially stable.
The NHL, and primarily Gary Bettman, did not want these franchises to be forced to relocate like the Winnipeg Jets and Quebec Nordiques.
So, Bettman championed a revenue-sharing method that sent money to the Ottawa Senators, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks.
The program ended after the 2003-04 season, and it was very effective for its recipients, stabilizing them financially during a time when the Canadian dollar was struggling.
NHL on NBC
The NHL's latest 10-year, $2 billion television deal with NBC and the NBC Sports Network has the potential to make the NHL the next big thing on TV. The MLB, NFL and NBA gradually increased viewership and exposure through their various television deals and private channels.
NBC Comcast has made a concerted effort to help the NHL expand its audience, and the NBC Sports Network will broadcast several games every week. Additionally, the network plans to add NHL-related programming in the form of documentaries and analysis.
Bettman deserves credit for brokering this deal, because it probably was very tempting to sign with ESPN considering its reach, capital and ability to virally promote just about anything.
In the long haul, the NHL will be better for having joined forces with NBC.
Institution of Salary Cap
The NHL's salary cap allows the league to maintain parity that is unrivaled when compared to other professional sports. Since the 2005-06 season, 29 of the NHL's 30 teams–sorry, Toronto– have made the playoffs.
If teams were able to spend as much as they wanted, the league would only have of six to 10 teams who were capable of making the Stanley Cup every year.
Just look at the vast difference between the 2009-10 and 2010-11 Chicago Blackhawks, and you will see the NHL's salary cap at work. The Blackhawks won 52 games in the regular season on their way to the Stanley Cup title in '09-10, but won only 44 games and lost in the conference quarterfinals of '10-11 playoffs after being forced to get rid of a few key players to get under the salary cap.
Although some will say that circumvention has downplayed the effectiveness of the salary cap, it is better than having no safeguards whatsoever.
It is also true that the salary cap system could be modified to increase competition, but adding a salary cap did help level the playing field.
Institution of the Shootout
Some people love the shootout, and others hate it. But it was a change that helped hockey coming out of the lockout. This gimmick was used to create interest in a sport that needed a boost after the entire 2004-05 season was scrapped.
Shootouts make games exciting, and while the points allotted for a shootout win may need to be adjusted, shootouts are a huge part of the new NHL.
Although you may hate the impact they could have on games, when they were introduced, shootouts were a huge plus that brought hockey to the attention of the casual fan.
League's Financial Growth
The NHL has seen amazing growth under the tenure of Gary Bettman. When he left his job at the NBA to become the NHL's commissioner, the league was reportedly worth about $400 million.
Fast forwarding to the present, the NHL is reportedly worth more than $3 billion.
Although detractors will say that Bettman is taking a hard-line stance when it comes to negotiating with the players' union, he has done a lot to make the NHL as profitable as it is.
The NHL would not be the league it is today without Bettman. Whether you like him or not, you should be grateful for the business decisions he has made to make the league profitable.
Expansion to Nashville and Minnesota
Gary Bettman gets a lot of heat for the NHL's failed expansion franchise in Atlanta and the struggling franchise in Phoenix. But the addition of franchises in Minnesota and Nashville were two of the best decisions Bettman has made as commissioner.
When the North Stars left Minnesota for Dallas, fans in one of the greatest hockey states in the United States were beyond devastated. When the NHL brought hockey back to Minnesota seven years later, it was a time for rejoicing.
The Xcel Energy Arena is one of the NHL's most beautiful arenas both inside and out. The Wild are moving toward becoming a successful team in the Western Conference and local support is amazing.
In Nashville, which entered the NHL in 1998, the community really has come to embrace hockey. The fans there take hockey seriously, and there are tons of traditions that have been started by fans in the Nationwide Arena.
The Predators are also a team that is on the rise, and when a team wins, it only makes things better for the local economy.
Overall, these two expansions added great teams to the Western Conference, and they should be exciting to watch once the 2012-13 season gets underway.
NHL Players Allowed to Participate in the Olympics
Although the IOC voted in 1988 to allow NHL players to participate in the Olympics, it wasn't until 1998 that the NHL allowed its players to participate.
That decision led to the 1998 Olympic hockey tournament being promoted as the tournament of the century, and it certainly had a ton of amazing moments.
Since then, the NHL has participated in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Olympics, and it has been a great moment for fans, as they get to watch their favorite players compete against the best on a world stage.
First Television Deal with Fox Sports
The NHL took off in the 1990s when Gary Bettman brokered a five-year, $155 million deal with FOX to carry NHL games.
After coming to the NHL in 1993, it didn't take Bettman long to broker a deal to get the NHL on every television screen in the United States and Canada.
For the first time, fans throughout the United States could watch more than just their favorite teams locally, as FOX carried big games throughout the course of the season.
This deal is considered a huge plus for Bettman because it set the stage for the NHL's next big expansion.
Elimination of Two-Line Pass
In the older days of the NHL, the two-line pass rule stymied a lot of offensive chances and led to low scoring and mundane action.
After the lockout was over, the "new NHL" emerged with a game full of speed, action and scoring. With the rule abolished, goal-scoring, breakaways and penalty shots occurred with more frequency.
The neutral zone was also reduced by four feet. That shrinkage allowed offense to become more commonplace as well.
Those changes have benefited the game in the long run.
NHL Hockey on ESPN
Hockey fans today constantly complain about the lack of hockey coverage on ESPN and SportsCenter.
This has not always been the case, because the NHL was able to land a five-year, $600 million deal that broadcasted games on ESPN and ABC.
Additionally, ESPN hosted NHL 2 Night, an amazing hockey show that covered the ins-and-outs of the NHL.
If you look back on this deal that Gary Bettman brokered, the best part had to be the announcing of Gary Thorne.
The NHL was a great sport to watch during the time it was on ESPN, so hockey fans were always entertained.
The Winter Classic
The Winter Classic is one of the greatest additions to the NHL during Gary Bettman's tenure. Finally, hockey fans get to use a holiday as an excuse to watch the game they love.
On Thanksgiving, the guys watch football, at Christmas the NBA rolls out a big lineup and on New Year's Day, NHL fans get an amazing outdoor game.
It is hard to adequately describe the attraction of the Winter Classic, because no matter who's your favorite team, the game demands your complete attention.
Simply put, the Winter Classic is a great celebration of the majestic game of hockey.