With no end in site to the current labor unrest, NHL fans have nothing to do but stew about who's more to blame for the lockout. Yet, no matter whose "side" you're on, we all share one thing in common. Hockey loyalists don't like Gary Bettman.
The term "loyalist" describes those fans that Bettman knows will come back. The ones that tried to say they'd stop watching after the 2004-05 season was lost, but who knew they could never abandon the game.
NFL fans were tested over the summer, but give that league credit for understanding what was at stake.
From a financial standpoint, there's no comparison between the two sports. The NFL almost tripled the NHL's overall revenue in 2012, so it has a lot more to lose by canceling games.
The difference between commissioners in these leagues is immense too. Roger Goodell has made unpopular decisions, but you don't hear people questioning how much he really cares about the game itself.
In stark contrast to that is Bettman.
He has no history with hockey. If you asked fans what kind of person they'd choose to run the league, most would tell you someone who has roots in the game.
The animosity starts there. Bettman's an attorney who seemed to have little understanding of the NHL's history from the moment he took over.
Early in his tenure, he let teams in Minnesota, Winnipeg and Quebec City pack and up leave without so much as a peep. Compare that to the current situation in Phoenix, where the league has maintained that team for three years hoping someone will keep it in that non-traditional market.
Bettman's ignorance to his failed expansion into the American South still irritates fans almost 20 years after it began. Let's hope he doesn't give Atlanta a third chance.
His failure to embrace the tougher side of hockey rubs a lot of people the wrong way as well.
The instigator penalty is one of the worst in sports. It encourages players to be dirty without having to worry about the consequences.
However, fighting itself has slowly worked its way out of most games and has become much less prominent than it was in the 70s and 80s. The NHL has evolved. The skill level of your average player is twice what it was just 15 years ago.
Yet, again this goes back to Bettman's lack of true understanding for the game. His job is to sell the NHL's product, and it's no secret that fans love fighting.
So even though he hasn't come right out and condemned dropping the gloves, his description of it couldn't be more robotic. Rarely does the man speak about hockey with the staunch conviction you'd hope to see out of the head of such a unique sport.
Which brings us to the biggest reason the Commissioner will never gain favor with NHL fans.
Bettman insulted the players with the offer he and the owners began negotiations with over the summer. He acted as if the NHLPA had raked the league over the coals with the last CBA.
Now it is true that the league needed to institute a salary cap. Its small-market teams would have collapsed without it. But the players knew that as well as anyone.
Instead of taking a diplomatic approach, he immediately drove a wedge between the two parties that set the talks back for weeks. That angered numerous NHLPA members, including Edmonton Oilers C Shawn Horcoff.
Horcoff expressed his displeasure with Bettman and Bill Daly (the NHL's chief legal officer) to Craig Custance of ESPN.com:
I sit there and read Gary and Bill’s comments about, 'We feel sorry for the fans.' Well, I find that really hard to believe. I think it’s a blatant lie, personally. I don’t feel they feel sorry for the fans at all. Gary feels like no matter what, [the fans are] going to come back and couldn't care less if they're frustrated with this. He’s going to do what it takes to get the best deal and couldn't care less what they feel.
The Commissioner's indifference towards the people that just gave the NHL their most profitable season ever is astounding.
We deserve someone better. Someone who grew up with the game and who'll die with it. Maybe a Canadian? But certainly not an American attorney.
Unfortunately for hockey fans, Bettman could also care less about how much he's disliked and vilified by you or anyone in the media. He's more concerned with the bottom line. The only thing he needs to realize is that he's standing in the way of that.
So please do us all a favor and step aside Mr. Bettman. Because this league, this game, and its "loyalists" will be so much better off without you.
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