Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Defending Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner

Gary Bettman has been a lightning rod for criticism since the day he took over in the NHL back in 1993. From lockouts to bad tv deals, he has taken the brunt of it. In some people's eyes, he's the reason why there are only 5 Canadian NHL teams now. He's the reason why there were two lockouts. He's the reason why players are getting hurt. Let's turn this around on the nay sayers now.

Now, before I hear the hounds screaming "HOW STUPID ARE YOU", take a read before you cast judgement. First and foremost, Gary Bettman is a businessman who was thrown into a hugely disorganized mess of a professional league back in 1993.

First and FOREMOST, Gary Bettman is the reason there are at LEAST 5 Canadian Cities that host NHL games these days. I remember seeing the Cartoons in the paper, with 3 bums leaving town, with each one carrying a flag of a Canadian team (Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa) that just couldn't keep up because of overspending in larger markets. Before the lockouts, there was no cost certainty in a league where players were demanding more and more money. Now, BECAUSE there were two lockouts, the landscape has changed and even though there are teams that spend more than others, there is far greater parity in the league because players.

As for the bad TV deal, when they signed with Versus, they did so BECAUSE NOBODY WANTED THEM, so he took the only deal he had in front of him. As it turns out, it was like a stepping stone as:

(Quoted from

Here is how one connected source says it will break down.


The new deal will consist of a Game of the Week on ESPN2 early in the season (most likely on Fridays) , ESPN will take over the Saturday and Sunday Afternoon schedules from NBC after the Pro Bowl, as well as the Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals. The source went onto say, "There is a lot of ego in this world and ESPN wants a MAJOR trophy to be won on their channel. That may be the overall driving force here."


Versus will continue its solid coverage with Games on Monday and Tuesday and the All-Star Weekend. ESPN back on the scene will be good for Versus in many ways. I hate the flack that Versus always gets for their hockey coverage. Maybe it's just because I remember a time before there was ANY hockey on in the states, but I firmly appreciate the work that Versus does in getting me extra coverage. The production value is really fine for me and most hockey fans who don't require all the bells and whistles.

In my opinion had ESPN kept their deal and Versus come on board as a network that just televised MORE games and not been a replacement for ESPN everyone would have just praised the Network's coverage. Instead we spent two years complaining about the millions of Americans who apparently go on vacation in order to watch hockey from their hotel rooms. Does it really matter if the local Holiday Inn has Versus? All we do know is that Versus is in millions of homes now.


When NBC gave the NHL a National deal in which they essentially were paid to put on the sport there was no Winter Classic. Now NBC was rumored to have only kept the NHL deal going this year BECAUSE of the Winter Classic. I am told that NBC and the NHL are working a deal that will separate the Winter Classic out of the National Package and that NBC will televise ONLY the New Years Game which has become known in the industry as one of the best and fastest success stories in sports TV History..."The fastest a sport's event has become a tradition ever."

Without Bettman, there's no Winter Classic, a hugely successful and profitable game on the schedule for the NHL.

Quoted from wikipedia:

Under Bettman, the NHL has seen rapid growth of league revenues, from $400 million when he was hired to over $2.2 billion in 2006–07.[1][2] He also oversaw the expansion the NHL's footprint across the United States, with six new teams added during his tenure, bringing the NHL to 30.

In the end, as passionate as the leagues fans are, as great a game it is, from start to finish it is still all about the dollars and cents. If people want their teams to win cups, they at least have to make money doing it. This is an industry, a business before a sport, money is what makes it work. Bettman has done this. He has made the game profitable for most of his owners. Yes, some of the southern belt teams are struggling, but those teams are about growth of the game more than individual businesses. (Although it looks more and more like the Coyotes are going home to Winnipeg)

The latest monster to show it's ugly head during his reign is the debate over violence and headshots in the game.

I know this statement will not make me popular. But here we go.

I feel, given that the players in the game are bigger and faster than ever before, that much of this violence, including headshots and injuries, are a growing pain for a league not quite ready to deal with it yet. Just in my short time watching the game grow, you see a player like Alex Ovechkin, who goes a mile a minute while he's on the ice, and compare that to the near methodical approach to the game that players like Gretzky and Lemieux had, and you've got to expect some sort of physical issues to come up. Ovechkin is not the only guy who goes faster, the gronks and the bullies do too.

Let's put this in simpler terms. Take a box, put some Reese Peanut Butter Cups in it. Gently shake it. Open it. Yes, a corner here and there will have cracked off, maybe one will have broken into pieces. Now, take the box, put 10 times as many Peanut Butter Cups in it, then put it in a paint shaker. What do you get now? Chocolate and Peanut Butter mush. How do we prevent the mush? Well, this is what the league is trying to do with it's issues of violence. This process is a marathon, not a sprint.

As for the major hits of this past year, Chara on Pacioretty, Gillies on Clutterbuck, Matt Cooke on the entire league, these are things that are happening while a solution is figured out. Should Chara have been suspended? Yes. Based on today's rules, 2 games. An illegal play causing injury to a player warrants 2 games. Was the league right in saying "it was a hockey play gone bad"? Absolutely. Chara did make a mistake, but it was out of playing hockey, not out of head hunting. This guy hasn't had 1 single suspension in 13 years of playing. 

Let's also put it in better perspective again.

What the HELL are the players thinking? It's not like Gary Bettman has them on strings and is smashing them into one another. The players need to be more responsible. They are screaming around the rink, wearing the equivalent to knives on their feet, holding a spear in their hands, and for the most part aren't even protecting their faces. THEY ARE ALL GROWN MEN. They need to be responsible and watch out for one another. The "brotherhood" of players needs to start again.

In the graphic attached, you see "Bettman is the NHL's George Bush" or whatever. George Bush bankrupted his country. Bettman saved his league.

I personally feel the protest that these people put off (before the Washington/ Montreal game last night), while genuine in purpose, wasn't genuine in character. (Boy, people are going to hate me after this one). These people haven't protested for any other team's players being hit, hurt, or whatever. But the moment a Canadien's player takes a smack, look out. Honestly though, I do appreciate the passion these people display. It's amazing what hockey fans will do to protect their game, even from itself. Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said it well here:

"I don't want to get into a controversy, but what if that was Hal Gill (Habs player) that hit David Krejci (Bruins Player)?" he asked. "I don't think there would be a protest going on here today."

While I agree that this may be a little harsh, the intent is right. There would not have been a protest to protect players in Montreal if they were the hitters, not the victims. I'm having a great debate with two VERY passionate fans on another site about this very thing. They are both right. Even more than I am. The protest is genuine and important. But my thought on it was what I have said here. It is very genuine, but I doubt the people protesting are.

Gary Bettman didn't make this accident happen. But he is dealing with it, and doing it properly, hand in hand with the GM's and owners of each team of the league.

More people know about hockey now, more people talk about hockey than ever before. Is Bettman perfect? No. He's made mistakes like everyone else. But because of Bettman, at least we have a league to complain about.


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