Gary Bettman: NHL Fans Unwarranted Whipping Boy

Scott LoblawContributor IApril 2, 2009

DETROIT - MAY 24:  NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman speaks before game one of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Finals between the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Joe Louis Arena on May 24, 2008 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Gary Bettman has become NHL's public enemy No. 1.

Read any hockey article or blog and the commissioner get the blame for everything that is wrong in the game. The fact is that he has been very successful and there is very little to blame him for.

People really should educate themselves on the facts.

Most fans that like to finger point do not even know what Bettman's job entails. He works for the owners of 30 NHL teams.

He reports to these 30 owners, this group is called the Board of Governors.

Essentially, Bettman is not much more than a spoke person for this board.  He has very little power and he only votes in the event of a tie.

Some fans, without knowing any better like to blame many things on the commish. Let's review some of these:

1.      That he "took away" franchises from several cities like Hartford and Winnipeg.


All ownership changes are first approved by the existing owner, and then voted on by the rest.

Never has a sale not been approved by the NHL.

The fact is, the commissioner does not have a say in whether or not a team stays put.

U.S. Anti-Trust legislation guarantees the owner of a business the right to practice his business where he wants.

Once an owner has sold his team, the new owner always has the right to move it. This is the ruling that allowed Richard Burke to move the Jets to Phoenix, and allowed Karmanos to move the Whalers to Raleigh.

2.      That ESPN no longer has hockey coverage.

After the lockout, ESPN gave a low-ball offer to the NHL for coverage, Bettman negotiated for as much as he could and accepted it and took it to the Board.

The Board rejected it.

Bettman took another ESPN offer to the owners in December 2007. The NHL governors rejected it.

Another little known fact is that the NHL is making more money with Versus coverage, they have more viewers than they did with ESPN and there are a better selection of games shown.

3.      Too many Southern teams.

a) Anaheim Mighty Ducks
          - Ziegler announced the team at the 1992 draft.
b) Atlanta Thrashers
          - Bettman announced the team at the 1995 draft.
c) Carolina Hurricanes
          - Peter Karmanos of Detroit bought the Hartford Whalers in 1994, and after 2 years of no sellouts, moved the team to closer to his summer home.
d) Dallas Stars
          - Norm Green sold his stake in the Calgary Flames to purchase the Minnesota North Stars from the Gund brothers;

- The city of Minneapolis sold the land; the Met Centre was forcing Green to find a new place to play;

- Green and the Target Centre could not reach a financial agreement therefore Green moved the team to Dallas.
e) Florida Panthers
          - Ziegler announced the team at the 1992 draft.
f) Los Angeles Kings
          - One of six teams chosen for the 1967 expansion by Clarence Campbell.
g) Nashville Predators
          - Bettman announced the team at the 1995 draft.
h) Phoenix Coyotes
          - Barry Shenkarow put the Winnipeg Jets up for sale in 1989, and in 1995, a group from Phoenix tentatively bought it.
i) San Jose Sharks
          - as part of the sale agreement of the Minnesota North Stars, the Gunds were promised an NHL team in any city they chose. The Gunds lived in San Francisco and chose San Jose.
j) Tampa Bay Lightning
          - announced by Ziegler in December 1991.

So, of the teams in Southern markets, Bettman is responsible for two of them.

As far as expansion, he is responsible for two others. Minnesota and Columbus, which have both been financially viable.

4.      Too many rule changes.

All rule changes come from the competition committee through fans, other leagues, and ideas from teams.

Gary Bettman has any say in what the rules are. The players and owners ratify the changes, not the commissioner.

5.      Loss of traditions.

The division names were changed prior to John Ziegler leaving office and were announced during the 1992 draft.

6.      Canadians like to say he is anti-Canadian.

It was Bettman who himself saved teams like Calgary and Edmonton by instituting the Canadian Equity Program.

The bottom line is that Gary Bettman has grown the game. He has made the owners and players a lot of money. While other sports are losing sponsors and have been cutting staff with massive lay-offs, the NHL has held fairly steady with no job cuts.

In the last 18 months, the NHL has signed deals worth over $200 million with Bud Light, Labatt, Honda, Cisco, Visa, McDonald’s and Bell and new multiyear contracts with Scotiabank, Ticketmaster, Bridgestone, Bank of America and Kraft.

Versus NHL TV ratings are up 37 percent this year. Gate attendance has surpassed the NBA.

Bettman does not have to deal with a steroid scandal or a referee scandal or constant run-ins with the law up to and including murder.

He is even going to stick tough with Phoenix because having all the existing teams be viable is his long-range plan and he is determined to make it work.

Teams go through cycles, for proof look no further than the Chicago Blackhawks.

So, next time you go sign that petition at some "Fire Gary Bettman" website or write a comment at the bottom of some blog about how Bettman is ruining the NHL, do your homework and educate yourself first and maybe you will have a different vantage point on the commish.

Sure, he is arrogant and pompous and looks like a garden gnome, but that entire aside, he is a good commissioner who is growing the game for the better.


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