The Don of the NHL: Cherry Should Be in Charge

Jon Neely@@iamjonneelyAnalyst IMarch 18, 2009

Wait, wait, wait!

I know what you're thinking, and you are probably right.

But give me a chance to explain.

Much has been said about the job that current NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has done since he began in 1993. Once the Bettman era began, the league expanded with six more teams (Florida, Anaheim, Nashville, Columbus, Atlanta, Minnesota). It was seen as a good move then, but many of those teams are struggling financially in non-hockey markets.

He has been accused of poor advertising of the game, responsible for losing major television contracts with big-time American channels, and worries more about money than hockey. There is also the small fact that under his command the NHL was locked out.


If you need to ask fans how they feel about Mr. Bettman, just listen when he steps on the ice to hand the Stanley Cup to the winner this year.

It is time for a new man in charge, someone who actually knows the game, watches the game, and loves the game.

It is time for Donald S. Cherry.

Don Cherry, love him or hate him, is what the NHL needs as a commissioner. He knows the game, he watches the game, and he loves the game. Obviously, after just turning 75, the possibility of this actually happening is slim to none. And slim just left town.

But dare to dream.

He Loves the Game

Forget the guys who grew up worrying more about statistics in class than statistics on the ice. Cherry absolutely loves the game of hockey. No one could ever argue that. Cherry is a man who spends most of his life either sitting in a cold rink watching a minor league game or in his living room watching an NHL tilt. 

He is a true fan.

You could even argue that he's a world-class scout too, as he can spot a future NHL star in a game of 13-year-olds. Heck, if he told the parents of a newborn baby that their son would be playing in the NHL in 18 years, they'd better find the kid some skates.

He has spent his entire life in hockey. He only played one game in the NHL in 1955 (one more than Mr. Bettman) but went on to become famous as a coach and a national icon on CBC's Coach's Corner.

Kids adore him, parents respect him, and true fans of the game stay in their chairs when the first period ends on Saturday night.

If there is anyone who deserves the job as the head honcho of the NHL, it is the man who knows and loves the game at every level.

When He Speaks, People Listen

This year there has been more criticism of Cherry than ever before. It seems every week in the newspapers, on TV, and the Internet, that countless members of the ever-so-trustworthy media hurl insults and criticize him for what he says on the air.

They criticize him for disrespecting European hockey players, visor-wearing players, or any other players who aren't born in Canada and love to chuck knuckles. They call him a joke, they make fun of how he repeatedly mispronounces names of players, and they cry out for CBC to put an end to the madness that is Coach's Corner.

The media members, and fans who agree with them, will stop at no end until the man they hate is shut up for good.

And yet, they all watch.

When Cherry comes on for those few minutes once a week, same time, same channel, it's almost like the hockey world stops, just to see what happens.

Sure, he will most likely rant about the play of a visor-wearing, French-speaking, non-hitting forward who got his reputation by stick handling around people rather than through them. But that is who he is. Cherry is not afraid to speak his mind, and nothing you say will stop him from doing so.

A commissioner needs to be able to take criticism about the decisions he has made. Bettman hides behind his desk in his New York office high above the city. Cherry does the complete opposite, sitting in front of his critics on national television, and goes on with the show. You've got to give him credit for that.

Whether you admit it or not, when you watch the game on Saturday night, you watch Don and Ron MacLean in the first intermission.

He speaks, you listen, then you respond however you may—but he doesn't care about that last part, and nor should he.

When Bettman speaks, the league changes the channel.

The Suit

If there is one thing about the man you just have to love, it's those suits—those hideously beautiful suits. You never know what colour combination will come next, but it's always a surprise, and it's always a good laugh.

With Bettman, you get the black suit with the black tie. It's the same old boring businessman attire. It's professional, yes, but he sinks into the crowd and disappears. Cherry is the center of attention wherever he goes.

Wouldn't that be better for the game? The man in charge of the NHL walking into a room and immediately having everyone’s attention; doesn't happen with Bettman.

His suits speak volumes of the type of man he is. He speaks loud and proud and wants the attention. Someone like that running a league in need of new fans and a whole lot of financial assistance could only make the situation better.

A Canadian Icon, Just the Type of Man the NHL Needs

If Cherry was in charge of the NHL, you would see drastic improvements immediately. He would be on the phone with Wayne Gretzky in seconds, letting him know his team now played in Winnipeg.

There would be no fighting debate, he would make players do up their helmets tighter, and that would be the end of it. Since when did we become these guys' mothers anyways?

If they want to fight, let them fight!

He would ditch the instigator penalty faster than you can say, "worst rule ever," and take it back to the good old days where tough guys could protect the stars.

And best of all, he would sell the game better than Bettman could ever imagine.

In a dream world, Cherry would be the NHL commissioner because he cares more about the game than anyone else ever could. He doesn't worry about what people think of him or what he says, all the man wants is the best game possible. He would stop at nothing until he got that.

People who constantly criticize him fail to see his love for the game of hockey, and all he has already done for it. They look for the easy jabs and take them on a man who deserves nothing but the best from people who say they truly love the game too.  

Cherry will never be the commissioner of the NHL.

Sadly, Bettman still is.

But when Bettman comes out to deliver the Stanley Cup to the winner this year, you won't have to listen very hard to hear the chorus of boos from every fan in the stands.

Next time Cherry has to walk through a crowd to have a pre-game discussion with Ron MacLean, take a look at the fans around him. The fans making him stop to take a picture, sign their jersey, or just shake his hand.

Notice the life-size cardboard cut-outs of him doing his famous "thumbs up," the endless signs with his name surrounded by hearts, and the smiles on the children's faces as he stops to give them a high five.

Notice the love that is shown to the man who shows it right back to those who really matter.

The fans.

Say what you want about him, but Cherry loves the game of hockey.

And like it or not, hockey needs Don Cherry.


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