Don't you just want to punch that face? Gary Bettman is arguably the most hated person in the NHL, and he's not even a player. Never has been. Bettman was a corporate lawyer who got involved with the NBA in the '80s and came over to the NHL when basketball dumped him.
And every year Bettman makes an appearance, whether announcing for the draft, appearing at the Winter Classic or presenting the Stanley Cup, he gets booed like no other.
Maybe that reception is deserved, maybe it isn't. Not many people were too happy with Bettman after missing an entire NHL season, but whether you want to admit it or not, the competition in the NHL has infinitely improved since then.
And no matter how badly "the Batman" gets booed, he's still smiling. Why? Why, when every red-blooded hockey fan hates your guts are you smiling? Pretty simple really, when you're breaking league records in TV ratings and financial profits year after year you have a big reason to smile.
And if you think it's over yet, it's only just beginning. Gary Bettman will be smiling so much after this season that his mouth will hurt for weeks. And why is it this season in particular? Let's take a look.
It doesn't really help the Detroit vs. Pittsburgh rivalry, two teams who rarely see each other anyway, when each team's best player misses both games against each other. However, that's what happened and there's no changing that.
Crosby was on pace for a record season when he took two hits in consecutive games, one of which (still unknown which), caused Crosby to have a concussion. Crosby missed the rest of the season and likely wouldn't have returned to the playoffs even if Pittsburgh had gone deep.
Datsyuk was looking toward his first 100-point season while still being dominant defensively, until he broke his hand in a game against the Vancouver Canucks. Datsyuk also missed a few random games near the end of the season due to other complications.
Alex Ovechkin wasn't injured, but he did have a relatively poor year production-wise, at least when you compare it to his previous seasons.
Evgeni Malkin missed half the season due to knee problems which eventually resulted in a torn ACL.
Getting the picture? Last season wasn't a good year for NHL superstars. Likeliness of that happening again? It's pretty slim. There's no doubt in my mind that with these players on the ice full time the NHL is a more entertaining product, and they'll certainly help the popularity of the NHL grow next season.
Yeah, you read that right. I said "teams." Plural. As in more than one. This, of course, is fact mixed with speculation but I don't think I'm inaccurate to assume so.
If you've been living under a rock in the NHL world, the Atlanta Thrashers are gone and the Winnipeg Jets have returned. The questionable thing here is that after all the work the NHL has done to save other failing franchises, they didn't lift a finger to save the Thrashers.
So why should Bettman be smiling about this? Well, considering Winnipeg has 13,000 seats guaranteed to be paid for over the next five years, and it only took a matter of days to do so, it should take very little explaining to see why he would be.
And now back to the plurality of that word. Teams. What do I mean? You know what I mean. The only interested buyer in the Phoenix Coyotes was Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer, and he pulled out about two months ago.
Now the Coyotes have no interested buyers and are wasting the money of the NHL, NHL owners (via revenue sharing) and the city of Glendale. Let's be honest, it's minutes to midnight for the Phoenix Coyotes.
While their relocation probably won't effect the NHL in 2011-12, it will likely take place just following the season, and whether people want to admit it or not, it will be a good thing for hockey and a good thing for a new city ready to welcome a hockey team.
Another relatively simple concept. The NHL broke its own record last year for most revenue in a year, generating roughly $3 billion. This is speculative of course, but that money should undoubtedly go towards promoting the sport.
Will it? That remains to be seen but they would certainly be wise to do so.
Even if it doesn't, considering the merger of NBC and Versus and the re-branding of Versus into NBC Sports, NBC has already promised more cross-promotion between networks, which means more advertising for the NHL.
All I can say is if the NHL can keep pumping out commercials like the one shown above, they're going to bring in fans very easily.
Pretty simple concept to understand here. The two biggest markets in North America are New York City and Los Angeles. Both teams took huge strides to improve this year.
The New York Rangers acquired the services of Brad Richards, who was easily the biggest free agent on the market. Los Angeles acquired Mike Richards (no relation) from Philadelphia and signed Simon Gagne during free agency.
No doubt both teams will be better this season, and Los Angeles is considered by some to be the favorite in the Western Conference. Is it possible that these two teams could meet in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals? You can read more about that here.
At the risk of side-tracking, this picture makes me laugh. The guy on the left was just arrested last week, and the guy on the right doesn't play for the Philadelphia Flyers anymore.
Now, back on topic, the Winter Classic is by and far the NHL's biggest regular season game. This year, it also marks the re-branding of Versus into NBC Sports. The 2011 Winter Classic featured relatively small markets of Pittsburgh and Washington D.C.
Whether it featured Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby or not, both cities are relatively small in population, especially compared to New York City and Philadelphia. That's the Winter Classic this year, and the local ratings for each city alone will likely crush Winter Classics of the past.
The only thing to worry about with the Winter Classic this year is that it will be featured on January 2nd, instead of January 1st. Maybe that's good. Maybe it's bad. Either way, the NHL didn't want to have to compete with the NFL considering they already compete with college football.
Will it work out? Maybe, maybe not. My suggestion would be running it at night, because a lot of people aren't going get Monday afternoon off work so they can watch a hockey game.
As soon as Gary Bettman signed on the dotted line for 10 more years with NBC and Versus (soon to be re-branded NBC Sports) there were hundreds of hockey fans whining and complaining about how this was a stupid deal and Gary Bettman is signing the NHL's death warrant.
Why do people think this way? It's pretty simple really, because they have this pipe dream that ESPN actually cares about hockey and will treat the NHL better than they did seven years ago when they bumped them to ESPNClassic so they could broadcast stuff like poker.
I'll be the first to admit that I loved Gary Thorne and Bill Clement and that I can't stand listening to Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury as the so-called "experts" that they are, but let's be honest, NBC's coverage is infinitely better than ESPN's was and would be if they were still with the NHL.
First of all, look at ESPN's group of "experts". They've got Barry Melrose, who barely lasted ten games as the coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning a few years ago, and they've got Scott Burnside.
What's wrong with Burnside you ask? Let me put it this way, the guy has picked the Pittsburgh Penguins to win the Cups for four years in a row. That's first. Secondly, just before the playoffs started, knowing the Chicago Blackhawks had to face the Vancouver Canucks, and that Pittsburgh would be without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Matt Cooke, Burnside predicted a Penguins vs. Blackhawks Finals. Yes, you read that right.
So now people will say that ESPN has more exposure, it certainly does, but not all exposure is good exposure. Half the headlines I read on ESPN are about athletes getting in trouble with the law or some other crap.
On top of that, how many people who are complaining actually read the terms of the ESPN deal? ESPN was offering the NHL 25% of the coverage that NBC offered and were only going to pay the NHL 33% of what NBC is.
Not a good deal. Not by a long shot. At the moment, yes, Versus isn't available to a lot of people, but NBC has already vowed to have it's availability on par with ESPN's in time for the 2014 Winter Olympics, and when it is, the NHL will receive a huge boost.
Call it the yin to No. 2's yang. OK, don't call it that please. Regardless, these two go hand in hand. The NBA and the NHL seasons and postseasons are identical in length, and what's more is that they both run roughly at the same exact time.
If I need to explain why the NBA lockout would be good for the NHL, I'm really overestimating the intelligence of hockey fans. It's an easy concept to grasp. With the competition out, you're the only game in town. The NFL only plays until February, and the MLB will barely be into their season by the time post-season hockey starts.
The NBA lockout will certainly help boost certain NHL teams where the NBA is the dominant product, such as the LA Kings. This article speculates that the Kings could receive a huge popularity boost due to the absence of the LA Lakers.
The NHL's biggest post-season rival is by and far the NBA, and now there likely wont be an NBA season. I'm not saying that means that every single NBA fan is going to turn on a hockey game, but it certainly does mean more coverage, and it will likely translate into more fans.
Jordan Matthews is an avid hockey fan and a fan of the Detroit Red Wings who frequently writes about the NHL. For more coverage from Jordan, you can become a fan on Bleacher Report or you can follow Jordan on Twitter by clicking the follow button below.