September 13, 2012; New York, NY, USA; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during a press conference at the Crowne Plaza Times Square. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE

Gary Bettman Is Not To Blame

From Ken Campbell of The Hockey News September 24, 2012 story on Gary Bettman. The story is linked on The Hub.

Gary Bettman learned long before Chris Chelios made his veiled threats during the last lockout what it was like to live with a target on his back. And you’d have to think that part of his $7.5 million-a-year compensation package is to take the heat from players, fans and media types for doing the bidding of his employers.

And let’s face it. Bettman often makes it easy to dislike him. He frequently comes across as condescending and arrogant and after 20 years on the job, still can’t shake the fact that he never took a stick in the chin. There are times when he makes taking potshots at him as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.

To often in life, we only want people who lived the life to rise up to the top and lead the organization. Sales people only want to work for those who carried the bag. Auto workers want either someone from the assembly line or an engineer who got his hands dirty to stand at the podium. They don’t want an accountant. Seal Team 6 was led by Richard Marcinko, a former enlisted sailor who rose up through the UDT and then the SEALs. He went to college and earned a Master’s Degree, The self-proclaimed hairy knuckle dragger ended up forming and running Seal Team 6 as an officer. From there he created and led Red Cell. He led from the front as a shooter and was respected for coming through the ranks.

Hockey players are no different. Look around at the coaching and General Manager ranks. Even if you didn’t get to lift the cup, fans are more likely to give you a chance if they know your name from the back of a sweater. Names like Tippett, Quennville, Sutter, and Ruff. Back to the Ken Campbell article:

People such as Teemu Selanne, who recently wrote on a blog that Bettman, “is certainly the NHL’s most hated person.” Or John-Michael Liles, who tweeted in all his grammatically correct glory that he, “Just wanted to send out a big congrats to gray (sic) bettman for his 3rd consecutive work stoppage. Impressive stats for someone w no athletic skill.”

So, let’s see here. At last count Selanne has made almost $70 million over the course of his NHL career, which began just a couple of months before Bettman took office. At that time, the NHL had revenues of about $400 million. Now they’re at $3.3 billion. You’d have to be a complete dullard not to realize that Bettman had something to do with that and the subsequent pay raises Selanne received because of those increases. And Liles? Please. Here’s a guy who has made almost $20 million over the course of his career and last year signed a four-year deal worth $15.5 million. Not bad for a guy who has had no idea what it’s like to be a plus player the past four seasons.

It’s been very fashionable for the players to fault the NHL and the owners for creating the top-heavy, long-term contracts that have become such a large issue, saying nobody forced the owners to sign them. Well, if anyone knows of a player out there who turned one of those deals down for the good of the game, please let us know. And to blame Bettman for those deals is ridiculous. The reality is that Bettman has hated those legal circumventions of the collective bargaining agreement since Day 1 and it was the owners of the teams who couldn’t help themselves. But he also knows that if he had ever tried to do anything to prevent teams from signing them, the players would have rightly accused the owners of collusion.

Jeremy Jacobs, owner of the Boston Bruins, took a vote of the owners before deciding to lockout the players. It was unanimous. Gary Bettman works at the behest of the owners. He has made them rich men if they put out a good product and adhered to some financial discipline. Too often the owners were groups with no senior investor/partner who understood business. They used the team as a glory possession. It is a sport, and the greatest sport, but still a business. Give the fans a good quality product in a good location and they will consume your product. Do not take the fan for granted. Look at the Blackhawks under the Wirtz family in the 1970’s and 1980’s and today. They current ownership group understood how to market the team, get them on tv, and put a quality product out there. The Islanders are the reverse. A horrible arena and a bad team that made the worst general manager decisions (Mike Milbury) that is trying to live off the glory of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Struggling attendance figures, low arena revenue, and a fan base that is contempt of the Wang family. If Seattle wants a team, here you go.

Last two paragraphs from the article.

But it remains in vogue to slag Bettman for simply doing his job. For example, people often point to Bettman’s failed Sunbelt expansion. But guess how many southern cities have received expansion teams under Bettman’s watch? Two, Nashville and Atlanta. Tampa Bay and San Jose were already in the league and the Minnesota North Stars had relocated to Dallas before he was hired. The Florida Panthers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim had already been accepted into the league in a move that was orchestrated by soon-to-be-convicted felon Bruce McNall. It’s true Bettman did little to stop the move of teams to Raleigh, Phoenix and Denver, but we’re going to go out on a limb and speculate that those moves had more to do with the previous owners than the NHL head office.

But Bettman largely gets the blame. He should be used to it by now. After all, doing your job for the real people who deserve the blame does have its downsides.

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