Bettman’s Hiring Was The First Domino to Fall in the NHL
This is a really divided topic regarding who is to blame. To be honest, every facet of hockey including the fans must accept some blame in this lockout but NHL hockey’s decline really started when Gary Bettman was hired.It is no secret that at least 90% of the hockey elite and fans do not like Gary Bettman and who can blame them. This is a man who expanded the NHL from 24 to 30 teams in the 1990’s. In principle, spreading the fan base of hockey to new markets was and still is a great idea but the application was ignorant. There is no need for 2 Florida teams (1 is fine to support the Canadian Snowbirds and the small US fan base there), Nashville and Atlanta. When the NHL was quoting their operational losses as a league, I will bet that 4 out of the 6 expansion teams recorded losses. Sure they provided the league with a quick $80 million in expansion fees but there was no long-term viability making a short term gain a long-term loss.
Carolina and Phoenix are relocated teams. Have they prospered at all? What kind of legacy was left in Carolina when they made it to the final? You can draw your own conclusions, the fact remains that there are at least 5-6 teams in the NHL that must die. They are hurting the bottom line and diluting the talent pool.
Forbes made an excellent point about the talent pool that was diluted due to the rapid expansion. “To meet the growing demand for players, team rosters were often filled with European skaters with only a fraction of the passion for the game that the Canadian players have. The NHL product lost some of its appeal to its rank and file.” Now there are some very entertaining Europeans and Russians out there, not to mention some flash and grit from the U.S. but when you see a large majority of the Europeans fade away during the playoffs when hockey is at its pinnacle, it’s a very true statement.
One of Bettman’s goals was to obtain a major TV contract. $60 million for 40 games from ESPN is pathetic. Well, nothing from NBC is even worse and due to the failed negotiations, the NHL will most likely have to pay for a US TV deal for exposure. For years now, the fans have been complaining about the pace and style of game. Not one 50 goal scorer last year. What ever happened to the days of 70+ goal scorers? The trap combined with obstruction and ill informed rule changes such as automatic off-sides and moving the nets has ruined the game. What did Bettman do to counteract this, NOTHING. All I heard was cost certainty for quite sometime. Instead of trying to improve the on ice product as part of his agenda, he completely ignored this. I doubt he feels that his is even a significant problem. This just goes to show how much he cares about the game. With his mentality, even if he got his cap, it would still be an increasingly difficult product to market. Sure you can say that some research was put into it and the use of the AHL as a guinea pig, but I have never heard Bettman address this issue with any kind of practicality.
This brings us to the present day and the cancellation of the season and recently failed negotiations. It does take two to tango without a question but when and if the NHL resumes, what will be left? Major sponsors such as Budweiser have already left, quite a few greats of the game Yzerman, Chelios, Hull, Messier to name a few will most likely retire without ceremony and a very reduced fan base.
There is no question Bettman must go. He was never a hockey man or even a fan of the game. Sure he is an Ivy League grad who should prosper in business but a pick up hockey player with a Business Minor would do much better because at least that person can recognize the fundamental problems beyond the economics.