Oh Gary when will you learn! Gary Bettman, the beloved National Hockey League (N.H.L.) Commissioner for the better part of the last 18 years, has failed to realize the error of his ways. He’s sent the N.H.L. in such a downward spiral, it may never recover. The continuous expansion into inferior markets has crippled this once prominent league. In June 1994, just over one year into his term, the N.H.L. was considered one of the top four sports, possibly surpassing the National Basketball Association (N.B.A.) for number three. In June 1994, Sports Illustrated ran a cover story headlined: “Why the NHL is hot and the NBA is not.” Now, nearly 17 years later, the sport ranks near the bottom of the top 10. What baffles me along with many other fans and reporters of the N.H.L. is that he continues to keep teams in these markets where they are constantly losing money and holding the league back. He is even considering relocating a franchise to Kansas City, a market which failed miserably in the 1970s. In the late 1990s he expanded into two markets which failed in the 1970s, those being Atlanta and Columbus. Those markets continue to fail today. There is a lot of speculation this will be the last season in Atlanta, possibly relocating to Winnipeg or Quebec City. Phoenix is another location whose future is in jeopardy and could be relocated this year. Here is the main difference between Bettman and his predecessors Clarence Campbell and John Ziegler Jr, who ran the league in the 1970s. When the N.H.L. tried expanding the game in to different markets, both acknowledged the failures of those markets and either relocated or folded the franchises in less than a decade. Bettman continues to keep them running for over a decade even though they lose millions a year. He insists on keeping teams in Atlanta, Columbus, Dallas, Miami, Nashville, Phoenix, Raleigh and Tampa Bay when they should have never been there in the first place. His reign has been, in the words of television broadcasting legend Ralph Mellanby, “a disgrace”. Mellanby, the brains behind CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada for two decades, was exacting when he said: “He’s done so much damage to hockey it may never recover.” In summary, 18 years of glowing pucks, mid-week all-star games, uneven schedules, bankruptcies, horrific TV exposure, lockouts and lost seasons. This league will not get better until Bettman is gone. Hopefully that happens one day soon and the N.H.L. can flourish once more.
Until the next puck drops,