Bettman fails leadership test

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:39 AM ET

DALLAS -- Sometimes you have to wonder if Gary Bettman is the right man for the job.

The NHL commissioner came under fire from Edmonton Oilers governor Cal Nichols following the decision to kill any changes to the schedule next season.

Bettman will mark his 14th year in office next week, but is there really any reason to celebrate the occasion?

The NHL took another hit in the media yesterday with its decision to kill a proposal that would have seen more games between the two conferences next season. After discussing the issue at a board of governors meeting last month in Palm Beach, Fla., the board took another shot at it Tuesday during its meeting here.

The result was the same. Two proposals -- one would have seen home-and-home inter-conference play, the other would have had all teams face off against each other at least once -- were both rejected by one vote.

"I'm not really sure who changed their votes because I was sitting there trying to crunch the numbers," said Toronto Maple Leafs president Richard Peddie. "But it was deja vu all over again."

What frustrated Nichols and most everybody else was the lack of leadership shown by Bettman after two-thirds of the 30 governors agreed change was needed, then stayed with the status quo.

Nichols wasn't alone in his disappointment with Bettman. The reality is Bettman didn't really want a change. The NHL decided to try the current schedule on a three-year cycle coming out of the lockout and, ideally, would like to see that through.

Why? That's the biggest question.

The league is ignoring its biggest asset -- the fans -- by sticking with the current schedule. Surely, Bettman could have persuaded a few teams to change their stance so fans in the West could see Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin more often.

LACKS FINAL SAY

As Bettman pointed out Tuesday, he doesn't have the final say on these issues and answers to the owners. But he was quick to flex his muscle during the lockout in 2004 and made sure no one on the board of governors stepped out of line in the battle with the NHL Players Association.

It would be hard to call Bettman's leadership disastrous -- the league has expanded to 30 teams and revenues have grown -- but one wonders if he couldn't have done a better job. While the game is stronger than ever in Canada, the NHL has made little inroads in the U.S. -- TV numbers are virtually non-existent and a couple of teams are on the edge of disappearing.

This week's all-star celebration in Dallas is a perfect example of how far hockey has to go in America. Strolling around the city, it was hard to believe there was any all-star "celebration" taking place.

When the NHL hired Bettman, it wanted a commissioner who would help grow the game in the States. He wasn't hired for his hockey expertise because, at the time, he didn't have any.

That's why when the board of governors fails -- twice -- on a resolution to produce a schedule that fans can embrace, you have to question Bettman's leadership.


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