From First to Worst:

The story of an american in a canadian game.

When people hear the catch phrase from worst to first it means that a team has turned their previous misfortunes into glory. When you hear the phrase from first to worst I want you to think of Gary Bettman.

Hailing from New York, Gary Bettman is the first commissioner in the history of the NHL and since his tenure began in 2/93, the league has been on a more than steady decline.

His hiring came as somewhat of a shock as he was not even a hockey man. He was senior executive of the NBA for 12 years. Many were surprised again when he wanted to “americanize” the game.

Bettman’s plan was to expand into non hockey but lucrative markets thinking that he could create more income since the Gretzky rave in the late ’80s. He also wanted to improve on tv deals and reach kids through various programs like street hockey. Sounds good.

It was bad. Bettman, with little regard to Canada, moved teams from Quebec and Winnipeg to Colorado and Arizona. One market which has already failed and one in the desert. That is quite a gamble. He also changed the names of the divisions and conferences which were named after canadian greats. His americanization turned divisions like the Adams division into the Northeast. He then took a popular american team and moved them down south. Soon there were teams in Carolina, Florida, Texas, Tennessee and Arizona. These are hardly markets in which people would say “Yea, hockey”.

With his expansion and obvious disregard of the game, Bettman isolated canadians and destroyed heritage and rivalry. Moving Hartford to the south removed the Whaler/Bruins rivalry which were wars. Moving Toronto to the northeast took them away from their battles with the once Norris division. What else could he ruin? The playoffs also went under change…again destroying rivalry.

With the moves the games revenues skyrocketed but so did expenses. It became very difficult for canadian teams to compete hence the moves. With revenues high, large american markets started to outbid other teams for the skilled free agents and since that time salaries have escalated. By 2002-03 more than two thirds of teams reported loss.

And oh yes, there were labor issues. The NHL under Bettman has had two player lockouts and an officials strike.

The NHL has gone through some drastic change over the last 40 years and a majority of it has occured in the 11 years Bettman has been in charge.

Part two- Team expansion or explosion

In the 1967-68 season there were 12 teams. 1979-80 season saw the league grow to 21 and so it stayed until the 91-92 season when one more team joined. Not too many changes considering the number of years and then comes Bettman. 92-93 24 teams, 93-94 26 teams, 98-99 27 teams, 99-00 28 teams, 00-01 30 teams.

The decline in goals and rise of ticket prices were next to come. In 87-88 the Calgary Flames led the league in goals with 397. From that season until 96-97 the Kings, Flames, Pens and Wings led the league in scoring with no total below 343 goals. (except lockout year, Nords led the league). Then…………end of 98 277 to 256, 268, 278, 295, 251, 269 and 262.

The league is in its second lockout in 10 years, goal scoring is down 30%, ticket prices are up 5 to 10 times, there are teams in the southern regions and the once great rivals are ruined. Not to mention the terrible changes in uniforms since his tenure began. Gary Bettman has singlehandedly destroyed the NHL. This not the NBA and its roots should be returned… Canada.

Maybe one day we will think of the NHL when we hear from worst to first.