I think we as hockey fans are looking at Gary Bettman all wrong. I know most NHL fans would boo his ass all the way back to the NBA if they had the opportunity. Have you ever been to a game where he’s dropping the ceremonial puck or is shown on the Jumbotron? Has anyone EVER heard people cheer him? Ever? The only place I could imagine that he would get cheers is Pittsburgh—and that’s only because he’s one of their biggest fans. Yet they don’t even like him there! (Easy Pens fans—I kid because a care.)
If he ever showed his face in public in Detroit, he might be taunted with “Bettman Sucks” chants or “Where’s your Crosby jersey?” remarks. Wait… nevermind. That already happened. Either way, you know what I’m getting at.
With the way this Stanley Cup Final has been run by the NHL, I wanted to sit down and list some of the positive things he’s done for the league over the last few years. So let’s take a look at some of the things that people usually bitch about when they talk about hockey’s fearless leader. When you read this list, you’ll see that he’s not nearly as bad as we think he is. Sometimes, a man needs the benefit of the doubt.
First and foremost, Gary Bettman is the great unifier. You can say whatever you want about Mr. Bettman, but he brings people together. Whether you’re an Islanders fan, a Penguins fan or even a Kitchener Rangers fan—you probably look at Bettman with distrust and probably even distain. What else in the hockey world can we all get together and agree on? The guy brings people together. That’s a talent! Thanks a lot Gary!
Take Game 5 of the Cup Finals for example. Fans in Pittsburgh were unable watch the game on the giant TV outside of the Igloo like they had for Games 3 and 4. Likewise, Detroit fans will be deprived of their “JoeVision” for Game 6 that’s being played in Pittsburgh. Mind you, the idea of watching the game together on a huge TV at the Joe isn’t a new concept—they’ve been doing it for 15 years.
You’d think it would make more sense to create an environment where fans can all get together and ride the rollercoaster together. We’re talking about 1000 people wanting to get together, connect with their fellow hockey fans and enjoy a game. Some corporations would kill for that kind of brand loyalty and buzz.
For those that don’t know, this isn’t a national television thing with the NHL. No, this is an NBC thing with the NHL. They don’t want to lose any of the precious ratings that would be generated from the market of the participating teams. Versus has no problem with it—but we all know that Versus is just happy to have something besides Professional Bull Riding and the Tour de France to televise.
To be honest though, we know that Mr. Bettman’s hands are tied here. Nevermind that Detroit has been hosting JoeVision for years or that Pittsburgh had thousands of people show up for Game 3 and Game 4. At the end of the day, we know that NBC has the league by the balls, because—well, they are the ones that truly run the Finals. But somehow, “Commissioner Conan O’Brien” doesn’t have the same ring to it. Thanks a lot Gary!
He showed the vision to back down and let NBC broadcast the premier week of Conan O’Brian with NO NHL interruptions. He knows that The Tonight Show holds a special place in the hearts of Americans—unlike silly little hockey. Instead of making NBC choose between the Stanley Cup Finals and their precious Tonight Show premier, he manned up and made some history of his own.
For the first time in over 50 years, the Stanley Cup Finals would have back-to-back games. I love how the sport that people passionately follow for 9 months, year after year, could be decided on a back-to-back situation. Can you imagine NBC telling the NFL that the Super Bowl would have to be moved to a Saturday because they had a new season of Fear Factor that was about to premier? No, you can’t. That’s because Bettman’s a trend setter baby! Thanks a lot Gary!
You see, all of these peripheral factors could cloud the judgment of a lesser man. Not Gary Bettman. He is a man of principles. Forget the good will that would be created with the fans. Forget the amazing atmosphere that could be created—especially if the Red Wings win their 12th Cup tonight. Hell no. He knows NBC is much more important than those small, individual fans that might be watching the game.
He understands that fans that have ate, slept, lived and died with their team for decades will always come back for more. He understands that a television network that doesn’t even WANT to televise the NHL is much more important that those silly little fans. He understands these things—just one of the million reasons that he’s so wise. He doesn’t let inconsequential things like “common sense,” “compassion,” or even “intelligence” get in the way of his running of the league. Thanks a lot Gary!
Another point of his misunderstood greatness is the way he treats billionaires with disposable income that want to invest in the league. Aside from the NHL’s fanbase, his biggest enemy in the entire world is Research In Motion co-CEO Jim Balsille. Let me correct that: “Blackberry creator Research In Motion” should be the official name of the company.
Regardless, I love his vision and admire his trailblazing spirit on this one. In a world where people are engaged in the never-ending chase for sponsorships and new income sources, Bettman thumbs his nose at Balsille and his $3.4 BILLION net worth. You see, what Bettman understands that no one else realizes is that any kind of profit would rock the very foundation that the NHL is built on. If Balsille infuses all of that capital into the NHL, NOTHING good could come from it. I mean—professional sports leagues that turn a profit are completely overbearing.
Do we really want the NHL to turn into the NFL? People would be talking about it all week in anticipation of upcoming games. Owners would make money, the players would make more money, and sports networks would cover it for 12 months. Bettman KNOWS this—and does everything in his power to avoid all of that unnecessary exposure. Thanks a lot Gary!
Take a look at all of his hard work in the area of expansion. You have to admire his stalwart determination! Who cares if the city of Tampa hasn’t seen snow since the last ice age—he KNEW that the people of St. Petersburg had an undying desire to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup. He knew that Phoenix was a much better market for hockey than Winnipeg, even though the only ice you’ll find in Arizona is in the cocktails at an ASU frat party. He was thinking outside the box.
No matter what all of the economic and financial signs said, he wasn’t going to be fooled. He knew that it would be best to bring hockey to the untapped Sunbelt region of North America. Just look at what Wayne Gretzky was able to do with the Los Angeles Kings in 1993! Really, it’s not his fault that the expansion of the 1990’s hasn’t worked out. There have been market factors that were completely unforeseeable and out of his control. It’s not his fault that Wayne Gretzky couldn’t play into his 50’s and lead the Atlanta Thrashers to the Stanley Cup Finals! Just imagine what their financial situation would be then? See, completely out of Bettman’s control. Thanks a lot Gary!
Gary Bettman also made some tough decisions this year when he decided to hand down a few All-Star suspensions. Some people could be upset because he decided to suspend players like Niklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk (while warning his boy Sidney Crosby that he needed to show up to avoid suspension).
But stop… Red Wing fans should be thankful! The season is REALLY long and the commissioner’s office actually instituted a league mandated “day of rest” for 2 of Detroit’s superstars. Hockeytown should be thankful. That was pretty nice! Just imagine if Bettman suspended Sidney Crosby during the season. First of all, he would have had a little more rest and wouldn’t be as tired after the grinding season.
Secondly, Crosby wouldn’t have had to fulfill all of those media obligations that the NHL hangs around his neck. We all know that Crosby gets NO media coverage at all. It must have been incredibly awkward for him over all-star weekend. When you look at it from this perspective, you can see how Bettman is obviously a Red Wings homer and completely put the screws to the entire Penguins organization. Thanks a lot Gary!
Another point of admiration should be the loyalty that he’s shown towards Colin Campbell. Throughout the regular season (as well as the playoffs), Campbell has been wildly inconsistent with his implementation of the rulebook, fines and suspensions. Some commissioners might demand consistency, but not Gary Bettman. He knows that little things like Evgeni Malkin NOT getting suspended for instigating a fight bring attention from the media to the league. Just like Donald Trump said, “Any publicity is good publicity.” I’ll speak for Mr. Campbell on this one, “Thanks a lot Gary!”
I also hear rumblings about the ill-fated lockout that ended up costing the NHL the entire 2004-05 season. Rumor has it that the lockout didn’t even solve any of the financial problems. Once again, this is simply an example of the Bettman-haters picking and choosing what they want to hear. The “haters” will point to situations like Jerry Moyes in Phoenix or the Atlanta Thrashers hemorrhaging money.
Don’t people realize that its hockey’s traditions that make the NHL special? From Pittsburgh to Quebec City to Atlanta, the NHL has had revenue problems for decades. Why would the commissioner want to do anything to change that? It’s something that is familiar to all hockey fans—something warm and fuzzy that we can depend on. Things can change in the political and cultural climate in both the United States and Canada, but we can always depend on the NHL and their teams having financial problems. Thankfully, Bettman didn’t let some lockout get in the way of the NHL’s traditional foundation! Once again, thanks a lot Gary!
You see, Bettman isn’t nearly as bad when you stop and take a strong look at what he does. He doesn’t want the league to get too big for the average fan. He sees all of the pitfalls the NFL has to deal with and steers as far away from their success as he can. He doesn’t want big money to come in and play any kind of role in the leauge’s decisions. In fact, he doesn’t want any money for the league at all. But most of all, he doesn’t want the fans to get a big head– you know, thinking they are important. For all of that, thanks a lot Gary…