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.

82 Responses to From First to Worst:

  1. 19Yzerman says:

    Players used to flock to the south like birds in the fall to go to teams in the USA because the money was better. Now that the league has a draft system players can’t do so . However teams are being allowed by the league to do so for the same reason.

    The Blues wouldn’t be so bad off in terms of finance if they could win more post season games and generate the revenue they expected in accordance how much they spent.

  2. habsoverserver says:

    I remember when George Will was quoted on Ken Burn’s do*****enetary entitled Baseball back in the mid 90’s. At time Will said that Steinbrenner had single handedly destroyed the Yankees dynasty. The team had not won anything for about 15 years. Ten years later, Steinbrenner has a winning team with record revenues, attendance and payroll.

    Everything comes in cycles. The NHL will get better. It’s not entirely Bettman’s fault.

    Bettman leveraged Wayne and Mario to create a national brand so that the NHL could compete with the other leagues for media dollars in the US. It made sense at the time. New sports networks needed content. There was the chance to import European talent like Mogilny, Bure, Federov, Yashin, Jagr, Forsberg, Hasek, Lindstrom and others, many of whom ranked in the top 10 in the world at some point. The economy was strong enough to build stadiums in new cities. There were people wiling to pay $20 million franchise fees.

    What went wrong? The NHL moved to the lowest common denominator of talent. The league began to play a positional game that every player could learn. Size became more important than speed, checking more important than scoring and discipline more important than creativity. Talent got benched for taking risks on offense.

    It’s been a great ten years for the players. They got rich. The strong payroll teams did pretty well, dominating the playoffs and winning Cups.

    Yes, the quality of play is poor and unentertaining. That is the result of gm’s and coaches who have changed the game. It’s no longer pond hockey. It’s more like a scrum at the crease to push the puck over the line.

    The last great hockey game I remember was the Olympic gold medal game at Salt Lake City. There was room on the ice. The players skated full speed ahead. The defensemen sprung the forwards with crisp 60 foot passes.

    I think it will come back to the NHL. Someone will win a Cup by outscoring and out skating a bigger team. It won’t be easy. Goaltending equipment is a great equalizer. The is less net at which to shoot. So the offense has more to overcome.

    Nonetheless, we will wait until our game returns to its prior level of excitement.

  3. 19Yzerman says:

    I loved the 2002 western conf finals game 7.

  4. greatlife15 says:

    Yes BUT, when Bettman stepped into the league, he could have noticed that having teams in Florida would not be beneficial because Florida is not the biggest hockey state around that could use a team.

    Could he not have stopped this?

    P.S. I always did think John Zeigler has some ties with the NBA, I will look into that lol.

  5. Flyers_Fan_In_LA says:

    The reason why LA doesn’t have an NFL team is 2 fold.

    1. Despite the work of my friend Mike and super-agent Mike Ovits (former Disney and CAA exec) to rebuild the LA Colliesieum (sp) the tax payers aren’t going to foot the bill.

    2. LA fans are from other parts of the country and want to watch the best games on TV NOT the local game. To them I suggest NFL Sunday ticket and a TiVo.

    there will be football in LA sooner than later. Another friend of mine who worked in the VC business has some 30-somethings who made dotcom fortunes who are looking to buy a team and move it to LA.

    Note in the NFL, their business can BOOM when they don’t even have a team in LA. Amazing argument for a cap.

  6. Flyers_Fan_In_LA says:

    Now the NHL has to fight it out (and lose in many cases) with Arena Football and Poker. Bettman should be aware of that when working this deal.


  7. rojoke says:

    Texas wasn’t the biggest hockey state in the world, but look at the Stars today.

    And actually there is very little that Bettman could have done about Tampa Bay. He couldn’t just revoke the franchise, not without severe legal and financial losses. This isn’t a fast food franchise or retail store we’re dealing with. As far as I know, there’s no contractual language which states how and when the league can unilaterally revoke a franchise. Look at Bruce McNall or the Rigas’ in Buffalo. They were convicted of criminal offences, but the league never revoked the franchises. Plus there could be lingering business effects afterwards with regards to corporate sponsors. Even the Panthers were initially more successful than Tampa was, getting into the finals in 1996. At some point, you have to accept the fact that decisions were made and you have to live with the outcome of those decisions. It’s always going to have it’s ups and downs. Moving teams after four or five years of poor performances only makes the league unstable and even harder to sell.

  8. rojoke says:

    I recall at last year’s world junior championships the major complaint against Sweden is that they’re not developing players like they used to because they are teaching more systems, like the Torpedo, which is in actual fact what the trap started as, and less individual skill. No Swedes were taken in the first round of last year’s draft. Their junior program has severely underperformed as compared to previous teams.

  9. rojoke says:

    The Hockey News Yearbook provides the arena capacity for every team in their individual team reports, and the average attendance for the last two seasons in their stats report. They listed the capacity for Rexall Place at 16,839. Oddly, they had the Oilers average per game last season at 17,768. How they squeezed and extra 900+ bodies in there, I don’t know. But the fact remains, MTS Center or whatever, at 15,500 max, would still be the smallest in the league if they ever got another team.

  10. rojoke says:

    If the goalie equipment doesn’t get smaller in some way, then the only viable alternative I see is to make the nets bigger. I’d personally like to see them go six inches wider, six inches taller. If goalies want to play the butterfly, especially at 6′ 2″ or 6′ 3″, then give the shooters more target above them. And for God’s sake, someone tell me how a 10″ wide goalie pad is going to be less protection than a 12″ pad. How wide are these goalie’s legs anyway?

  11. hockeyhead says:

    yes the panthers were more successful because they are the one s that started the dreaded trap IMO.

  12. hockeyhead says:

    yes the goalie pads and gloves are bigger but without a doubt it is the butterfly style that has flourished and keeps goals against down.

    look at games in the 80’s and 90’s. teams wanted stand up goalies and that is pretty much what there was. patrick was one of the first and with his success…..well, now just about everyone is a butterfly goalie.

  13. 19Yzerman says:

    Its their NADDS dude. You have to have big giant Kahonaas to jump in the net and let NHLers take slap shots at you.LOL

    Raise the net 6 inches and widen it 3 inches.


    Reduce goalie pads as much as posable with compromising personal saftey.

  14. nordiques100 says:

    i think it was an even worse commissioner than bettman who brought hockey to florida and more to california with gil stein as commissioner. he too was the moron who brought the instigator rule in and put himself in the hall of fame as a builder only to get that decision revoked.

  15. nordiques100 says:

    the only thing wrong with the playoff format today is that the division winners automatically get the top 3 seeds in the conference even if they have less points than teams that did not win a division title. the year carolina went to the final they really should have been the 8th seed but instead got the 3rd seed and ended up with home advantage throughout the playoffs despite playing teams with more points than them.

  16. nordiques100 says:

    if there needs to be a team in miami just because it is a big market then why isnt itsuccessful? same goes for atlanta, anaheim and arizona.

    and if there should be teams in all big markets then really there should be a team in hartford or somewhere else in conn where there are several successful US college teams and a pretty rich hockey history in that area.

  17. nordiques100 says:

    i think the rinks need to get bigger in order to compensate for the size of the players. i know it may be costly but perhaps it is something that both the NHL and the PA could contribute to.

    i also think that there is too many teams and thus bringing us several players who really wouldnt be good enough to play when the league had closer to 20 teams.

    technology today is so good that they for sure could come up with more compact goalie equipment that not only will be safe but also not make the goalies bigger than the net itself.

    yes calling the rules as is would help but so will moving the nets back, the tag up offsides, the fat bluelines among other things.

    and they need to find ways to not have ties. perhaps 10 minutes of 4 on 4 for OT could work. i know there are too many people against the shootout but right now it is all about making the game more exciting and less about keeping with tradition. knowing that there will be a winner and a loser (with the loser getting no points) could put an end to the trap as teams know they have to win to get anywhere and not hold on to a tie. this too could open up the game

  18. 19Yzerman says:

    Historicaly cities that have had NHL teams leave and then have a new NHL team awarded or moved to that city creates a stimulated market.




    Not a 100% sucess rate with this but, 2 out of 3 Ain’t bad. Any others to add to that list of such cities??

    I think Hartford would be a good place to move a team to for that reason. Its ripe and ready. That market might be under the control of the evil empire though. NYC money!! Wolfpack being NYR minor team might just keep that market under it thumb.

  19. hockeyhead says:

    great great point.

    but i still like how the divisions used to play each other first. hated rivals.

  20. greatlife15 says:

    Yes, BUT wouldn’t it be more beneficial to the league if there were teams in places where there was more chance of profit? Many people say that Winnipeg and Quebec who were hockey-mad cities, had their teams taken away due to the fact that the Canadian Dollar was weak. If the league was to bring those teams back, they would have more chance of surviving due to the rising Canadian dollar (It is over 80 cents per US dollar if I’m not mistaken?) BRING BACK WINNIPEG, QUEBEC, AND HARTFORD!

  21. hockeyhead says:

    i want to repeat this…if the league goes to shared revenues then we can have canadian teams that can compete. divide everything up in american dollars which is what players want in their contract anyway.

    another thing….make all teams and ticket prices the same. why should it be different from park to park or arena to arena. if i see pearl jam in rhode island and then in cali it will be the same price. why should teams have the liberty to make their ticket a different price?

  22. rojoke says:

    make all teams and ticket prices the same.

    For several reasons.

    1. Different arena capacities.

    2. Different overhead costs.

    3. Different populations and fan bases.

    4. Different income ranges for cities.

  23. hockeyhead says:

    i understand that but……

    i could fly from nh to montreal and see a game for a little more than driving an hour to boston and seeing a game.

  24. greatlife15 says:

    So very true, I am an avid Leafs fan (go ahead, mock me), they are a great team and all but the prices are outrageous! If I wanted, I would drive up to Ottawa, watch them play the Leafs there, and I certainly would have saved some money.

  25. hockeyhead says:

    poor leaf fans….so gunshy from the abuse on this site.

    maybe we will be able to better afford games. players offered a 24% roll back on salaries yesterday. lets have some hockey please.

    i watched a game from ’89 last night and i could remember events in it like who scored and stuff. my friends thought i was nuts (we were playing poker while it was on). players should know how some of us miss the games.

  26. greatlife15 says:

    I am not gunshy, neither am I too defensive. Most people were expecting somewhere from 10-15% roll back, but the NHLPA went over and beyond what was expected. Also, three teams are going to be penalized by this tax (Flyers, Leafs, and Devils). The tax is adding up to 1.5 million from these three teams. And, anyways what is YOUR favourite team hockeyhead?

  27. greatlife15 says:

    You wanted to talk hockey right?

  28. hockeyhead says:

    great, of course i would love to talk hockey….my favorite team is the boston bruins. they picked up a leaf, tom fitgerald….of all the leafs…he has to be the worst….but boston loves to pick up local boys…..hopefully he can stay out of the box.

    hope the season get s going….the owners are real idiots if they let this one pass.

  29. greatlife15 says:

    he was never very good was he? Hope that Fitzy has fun in *New York accent* Baston (Boston).

    The NHLPA is using a very clever method. You see, they offer this great deal, and this causes public to push harder, the owners start to feel that they are being pressured and have no choice but to accept, clever aren’t they? Ofcourse this could totally backfire on the NHLPA and the owners run and the season is gone for good.

  30. hockeyhead says:

    i am feelin good about this…i think it will go and we will have hockey in jan. however…if the cap issue remains…. well lets not think about that.

  31. greatlife15 says:

    I read somewhere that this season or one of the coming up next ones, the “Owners” will save over $200 million dollars.. Someone want to confirm that for me?

  32. greatlife15 says:

    Maybe the extra 900 were in the nosebleed section..

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