Blind leading blind

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:31 AM ET

In what should come as no surprise to regular readers of this section, Gary Bettman has been named one of the worst American corporate managers of 2004.

The National Hockey League commissioner was awarded this dubious distinction by the prestigious Business Week magazine which, in its Jan. 10 edition, lists the best and worst of the American corporate world for last year.

There were only seven American business moguls who made the list of worst managers, and one of the others was Bettman's close friend and adviser Michael Eisner, the about-to-be-deposed head of the Disney Corporation which owns the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

KUMAR ON LIST

As an aside, it's interesting to note that on the list of "Fallen Managers," Sanjay Kumar of Computer Associates Ltd., makes an appearance. Until a couple of years ago, Kumar was one of the owners of the New York Islanders.

But back to Bettman. The magazine says that "NHL finances are in shambles and the weak TV deal signed with NBC last spring suggests the league has little leverage and is now a second-tier sport."

The article goes on to say that "under Bettman, the league has been skating on thin ice for years," and then discusses the underpinnings of the current labour dispute which, it says "was a crisis that should never have happened."

Whether this latest ignominy will have any effect on the NHL's governors remains to be seen. In the past, whenever Bettman's expertise has been called into question, someone like Harley Hotchkiss of the Calgary Flames pops up in front of a microphone and announces that Bettman has the unflinching and unwavering support of all the governors.

Considering the way these guys run their finances, not to mention the ill-conceived corporate strategies that they follow, it's little wonder that they blindly follow Bettman. Birds of a feather and all that.

In any other corporation, a guy who oversaw an operation that has increased its losses steadily for 10 years -- twice reaffirming its arrangement with the union along the way -- would be tossed out on his ear.

In the NHL, they brag about how much they lost and get quite peevish if you suggest the losses weren't really as ridiculous as they say.

Bettman must be the only corporate official of such high ranking who actually commissioned an impartial report to show that he had run the business into the ground further than anyone thought possible.

Because Business Week is primarily concerned with financial matters, it doesn't go into the way the game has suffered under Bettman.

It doesn't mention his inability to stem the defence-first strategies that have turned what was once an elegant and freewheeling game into a monochromatic check-them-into-submission test of endurance. It doesn't mention the fact that under Bettman's regime, 50-goal scorers have gone the way of the pterodactyls and American viewers have been driven away by the millions.

Business Week has it right. Gary Bettman is indeed one of the worst managers in the American corporate world today.

SYCOPHANTS

But he has surrounded himself with an internal group of sycophants, which includes not only Hotchkiss but Jeremy Jacobs, whose Boston Bruins exploded the entry-level salary cap and are now complaining about the cost of players, and Peter Karmanos who cleverly moved the Hartford Whalers to Raleigh-Durham and thinks its the players' fault that he can't make money on his hockey team.

These are the people who egg on Bettman and support him. In his elite advisory group, there is no representation from teams that have not only succeeded under the previous arrangement but thrived under it --Toronto, Detroit, Colorado, Philadelphia, etc.

And this is the guy fans are looking to for a solution?


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