February 21, 2005
Commish: You've been dissedGary Bettman's reign over the NHL can be summed up in one word: Horrendous, Al Strachan writes
By AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun
Should National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman be fired now that he has driven the league to the brink of extinction? Not if you listen to the owners. Bettman has done a wonderful job, they say. With that in mind, let's look at what has happened in the NHL since Feb. 1, 1993 the date Bettman became commissioner.
- There have been three labour stoppages -- a strike by the on-ice officials and two lockouts of the players.
- The Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix where, for more than seven years they tried (unsuccessfully) to draw fans to an atrocious facility. They got to play in their new arena for four months before Bettman shut down the league.
- The Hartford Whalers moved to North Carolina where they have been, expect for one brief fling, a disaster.
- Bettman encouraged and heartily endorsed for chairman of the league's board of governors Bruce McNall, a man who subsequently went to jail for fraud.
- Bettman gave his whole-hearted approval to the sale of the Buffalo Sabres to a man whose last public appearance came when he was being led off in handcuffs by the FBI.
- The New York Islanders were almost sold to a con man, a deal that came so close to fruition that the league became (again) a laughing stock. But through Bettman's diligence the Islanders were eventually sold to a pair of entrepreneurs, only one of whom is facing fraud charges.
- Despite promises from Bettman that he would revive the offensive aspect of the game, scoring steadily has evaporated. In the three seasons prior to the owners' lockout, the once-common 50-goal campaign was achieved only twice, and in two of those years, not a single player managed to muster 100 points. Goals were so scarce last season that no player in the league managed to score more than 41.
- Bettman was totally in favour of the travesty of taking the ultimate authority to review goals away from the referees and giving it to video judges. That decision led to the fiasco at the end of the 1998-99 season when Brett Hull scored the Stanley Cup winning goal with his skate in the crease.
- Bettman increased the number of franchises in the league to 30 by bringing in four franchises, only two of which could be considered to be successful.
- Bettman oversaw the 1995 collective bargaining agreement under which, he says, the owners lost a collective $1.8 billion US. But he extended it twice.
- He has seen the value of the American network television deal dwindle to virtual worthlessness. Under the last deal with NBC, the NHL receives no guaranteed revenues but will get some returns if the broadcasts show a profit.
- The American cable network deal with ESPN is in even worse shape. Once, the network showed doubleheaders and the NHL represented a significant part of the schedule on the main network. More recently, the NHL was shunted to ESPN2 and the number of telecasts was reduced dramatically. Now, thanks to Bettman's lockout, ESPN has found replacement shows that have far outstripped the ratings that hockey provided lately. As a result, if the lockout ever ends, the NHL will have virtually no network exposure in the United States. All of this is directly traceable to the fact that Bettman has been unable to prevent the deterioration of the sport as an entertaining spectacle.
There are many more examples of Bettman's negative impact on the league, but space prevents their inclusion. Even so, it should be fairly obvious that under Bettman's stewardship, the league's popularity has fallen dramatically and as a direct result, its financial situation has become precarious, to say the least.
Yet the owners repeatedly back Bettman and praise his efforts on their behalf.
No wonder they can't run their teams profitably. They can't tell a failure from a success.