Gary Bettman: What Exactly Has He Done on His 20 Years on the Job?

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 05: Following the NHL Board of Governors meeting, Commissioner Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League addresses the media at the Westin Times Square on December 5, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Gary Bettman was hired as commissioner of the National Hockey League 20 years ago.

Technically, he did not take over the position until Feb. 1, 1993, but he was named as the titular head of the sport in December 1993.

Every hockey fan is well aware of the negative side of the ledger: three lengthy lockouts. One of those lockouts caused the NHL to lose the entire 2004-05 season and is threatening to do the same to the 2012-13 season.

Let's not forget the 1994-95 season. Gary Bettman and the owners that he works for locked the players out for nearly half the regular season. NHL teams played just 48 games that season.

But Bettman has had an impact in many areas of the game and some of them have been positive. It doesn't mean that on balance he has been good for the sport, but if we are going to regularly list his faults, we can also make sure he gets credit for his accomplishments on the occasion of being on the job for 20 years.

When the NHL is not locking out its players, its business has increased significantly. The NHL had revenues of about $400 million in 1992 and that figure has grown to $3.2 billion in 2012, according to the Edmonton Journal.

Much of that growth came in the seven years that followed the 2004-05 lockout.

When Bettman was named commissioner, the NHL did not have a full-fledged national television contract. The NHL was the redheaded stepchild of network TV. If it could gain a national TV deal, it was transient. It had no long-term commitment.

That changed in 2011, when the NHL signed a 10-year, $2 billion deal with NBC. The league completed its first full year under the contract in 2011-12, but it is not delivering its product to the network and its properties in the second year of the deal.

The league has also grown significantly under Bettman's tenure. When he took over, the NHL had 24 teams. The league now has 30 teams.

The league has also taken some steps to make the game faster. Remember the neutral-zone trap that was employed by the New Jersey Devils and several other teams. It had the impact of slowing down the game.

There is more speed and skill in the NHL than there was in the first 10 years of Bettman's employment.

The NHL has also taken steps to make the game safer. Players who use their elbows as weapons and target the heads of other players. For example, when a player like Raffi Torres hits Marian Hossa and he is taken off the ice on a stretcher, he now receives a substantial suspension (per

That was not the case in the early part of his tenure.

Making the game safer so talented players can compete without risking long-term injury is a positive development.

Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins and Chris Pronger of the Philadelphia Flyers may not think that enough has been done since neither player appears likely to resume their respective careers, but an effort has been made to protect players from unnecessary violence.

Bettman has accomplished things from a business perspective that the NHL never dreamed of before he was hired.

However, one of the premises of his employment was putting a stop to labor unrest, according to the New York Times.

He has failed at that miserably and his decision to keep players locked out and off the ice may devastate the league far more than any of his successes have helped it.