10 Reasons Hockey Fans Hate Gary Bettman
10 Reasons Why...
Major league sports commissioners aren't generally seen as infallible Mother Teresa types by the faithful fans of any league. That goes without saying. As the head honcho of the front office, the man everyone below him answers to, commissioners have a lot on their plates to deal with league-wide and their names often act as stand-ins for assigning blame to things fans perceive as wrong with the way their beloved sport is being run.
For example: I recently read an article in Time magazine about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who learned the art of hobnobbing with fans from his father, who was a United States Senator. The article chronicles the way he responds to fans, some of whom are unhappy about this and that issue and even swear at him, as he attends a game. He keeps his cool, which would probably make papa Goodell proud.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has no such political background to draw upon in an attempt to create goodwill. Instead, he seems to sow dissent with everything he does and has done since he took the mantle of commissioner in 1993. While presiding over a hat trick of lockouts is especially bad, that's not the only ignominious thing he's done at the helm of the league.
Here are 10 reasons for hockey fans to sneer or otherwise show their distaste whenever his name is mentioned—although these aren't the only 10 reasons, not by a long shot.
10: Phoenix Flubs
Did you know that Phoenix was supposed to host the 2006 All-Star Game? When the 2004-05 lockout ended, the new collective bargaining agreement said that future ASGs were to be held in years that were not also Olympiads. Since 2006 was an Olympiad, Phoenix lost out and the game still has yet to be rescheduled. When San Jose lost the 1995 All-Star Game to lockout, they got it back in 1997. Bettman has promised to help Columbus reschedule the canceled 2013 game, but Coyotes faithful are still left wondering when it will be their turn.
That's just one of the many problems Bettman has run into since the Coyotes were born in 1996 from relocation (more on that in a minute). He technically owns the team right now because the NHL took control of it in 2009 to save it from bankruptcy, though Greg Jamison is in the twisty-and-turny process of taking over control, getting a new lease agreement approved and changing the team name to the Arizona Coyotes. Time will tell if that will bear fruit.
9: Winnipeg-Phoenix Relocation
(Pictured is Shane Doan, who played for both Phoenix and Winnipeg.)
Speaking of Phoenix, the 1996 movement of the Winnipeg Jets this wasn't the first relocation of Bettman's tenure as commissioner—that'll be the Minnesota North Stars moving to Dallas—but not only did this continue the pattern of teams moving from northerly outposts known primarily for hockey to points southerly and anew, it represented probably the clearest shift of a team from a cold-weather locale to a very, very warm-weather city. It's maybe the most obvious way for Bettman to declare that he wants to grow the game in new places, which is, to pardon the pun, a hot topic among many fans. Some Canadians who don't like what they see as an unneeded Americanization of hockey were certainly unhappy when this deal was approved and don't look too kindly on Bettman for it.
8: Atlanta-Winnipeg Relocation
This relocation moved swiftly—it was announced in mid-May 2011, approved and done with before the 2011 draft so the resurrected Jets could pick Mark Scheifele (pictured) in the first round, though he had to settle for wearing a generic hat and sweater at the time—but even as it moved at light speed, Bettman never stopped touting the party line of not wanting to move franchises. He frequently said as much in public arenas, including his radio and TV call-in show on NHL Network.
Then, once it happened, he gleefully took up the mantle of welcoming Winnipeg back, perhaps hoping to find an arena in which he will not be booed (more on that later) because of perceived goodwill towards Jets fans. In the process, though, he created yet another subset of hockey fans who revile his name.
7: Quebec City-Colorado Relocation
The Quebec Nordiques created a heated rivalry with their fellow Quebec-based Montreal Canadiens, but upon their 1995 relocation to Denver, scorned Nordiques fans were able only to watch on TV as guys who'd played there just months before won the Stanley Cup in a new city. Many fans still carry the torch for the team with the fleur-de-lis and keep an eye on financially struggling teams in the hopes of a relocation. The Parti Quebecois even promised to build a new NHL-sized arena in Quebec City as part of their campaigning in a provincial general election this year—and they won. It's safe to say that Nords fans are probably not very fond of Bettman.
6: Hartford-Carolina Relocation
Speaking of fans who still carry the torch for teams long gone, the Hartford Whalers. Though the team relocated to North Carolina in 1997, it's not uncommon to see their blue and green stylized whale-fin logo around these days—many sports stores in Boston carry Whalers gear right alongside Bruins stuff—and the song they became associated with, Brass Bonanza, is often played to great cheering in arenas around New England. This includes games of the AHL Connecticut Whale, named for the departed Whalers. In the Hartford Civic Center, their banners still hang, as seen above. Once again, like with Nordiques faithful, the fans of the Whalers are probably sore on Bettman.
It's a common noise heard whenever Bettman accompanies the keepers of the Stanley Cup into the arena of a victorious team. As a very bearded captain awaits the prize he's probably spent most of his life dreaming about touching, and his teammates feel like it's Christmas morning, Bettman enters sight and here come the boos.
The booing is often confusing to newer fans who don't know that people are booing the commissioner, not the trophy or the winning team—especially when the Cup is won on the road, like it was in the photo above, when the boos in Vancouver drowned out Bettman as he asked Zdeno Chara to come get the Cup. But let's face it: No matter what, it's discordant and doesn't have a place in what is otherwise cause for celebration.
For his part, Bettman just ignores it, saying that it's the fans' opinion and it doesn't matter. Instead of sticking to that way of seeing it, though, maybe he should recognize that he's not wanted there and relinquish the sacred duty of Cup awarding to someone else. Maybe the captain of the outgoing champion team could pass Lord Stanley on to the next one, or, in the case of a repeat (which hasn't happened since 1998), a retired team legend could be on hand for the honor. That would make it a lot more meaningful, and sometimes more tied in to teams' storied histories, than hearing a rain of booing.
4: The Issue of Concussions
Bettman is not the only commissioner having to deal with the life-changing effects of repeated concussions in athletes—Goodell has this meaty issue on his plate too—but especially after three players died untimely deaths in summer 2011 and at least one of them, Derek Boogaard, was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) that can only be detected postmortem, this is literally an issue of life or death and it behooves him to take a big stand on it.
The league has already taken some steps towards reducing concussions, such as requiring players to go to the quiet room right away if a concussion is suspected and giving out harsher punishments to hits to the head. But there is more that can be done without adversely affecting the mechanics of the game itself. For example: hybrid or no-touch icing, which is done in minor leagues, helps prevent high-speed collisions as players fight for puck possession.
Taking a stand and showing that Bettman values the brains—things that can only be healed to a certain extent and certainly can't be replaced—of those who play the game could help lead the way for other sports.
3: 1994 Lockout
It wasn't long after Bettman took office that the league locked out with the implementation of a salary cap as the biggest issue on the table. More than 450 games were lost, as was the All-Star Game. Once resolved, the schedule was basically sliced in half: 48 games starting in January 1995, all of them played with intra-conference rivals, the regular season lasting into May for the first time ever. This lockout's resolution also shortened all future seasons from 84 games to 82.
By the way, the 1994-95 season was the last for the Nordiques, so their fans were only able to see their team play half a season before its relocation. It was also the last season the Boston Bruins played in Boston Garden (pictured), a very outdated arena that still had a lot of memories, so its farewell year was truncated too.
2: 2012 Lockout
The 2004-05 lockout was worse (spoiler: that's why it is ranked first on this list) but the fact that the exact same outcome is happening again less than a decade later is unbelievable. After a year of record profits, inking a lucrative broadcasting deal with NBC (with Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider influential on both ends of the bargain) and what looked like a bright future on the way, the doors slammed shut yet again and are still tightly locked.
With that, Bettman has completed a hat trick of lockouts under his watch. As the negotiations go from hot to cold faster than the speed of light at times, Bettman continues to say that this is unfair to the fans, hoping to score some brownie points with the frustrated faithful. It's not working: I've personally seen fans say they're giving up or they don't care nearly as much, many who will cut back on NHL-related purchases when the doors reopen, feeling betrayed and let down, all of it. In the interest of keeping the game growing, simply put, he should have taken a stand and not allowed this current lockout to even happen in the first place.
1: 2004-05 Lockout
This lockout made sports history in the worst way possible. When the entire 2004-05 season was lost, it became the only full season in North American professional sports to have fallen at the hand of employer-induced labor dispute. Some players made do in Europe, younger players others went into the minor leagues and still others who were in the later stages of their careers hung up the skates because they just couldn't keep waiting. The Stanley Cup bears the indelible mark of this year that never was: for 2004-05, it simply reads “Season Not Played.”
Bettman should be interested in preventing 2012-13 from looking the same way above all else.