Despite his best effort, Gary Bettman is still the commissioner of the National Hockey League. He works for the owners who feel that he is still making them all money. Two season stoppages diminished US popularity and a TV contract so bad that NBC was able to, correctly, switch from a conference finals clincher to horse racing pre-race coverage hasn't been enough for the owners to realize that maybe Gary Bettman isn't the most competent man for the position. Despite extremely inconsistent punishment, ever-changing rules, changing overtime formats, and other embarrassing blunders the owners, who don't care as much about the game as their pocketbooks, stand behind their man much like a wife who's been married to her deadbeat husband much too long. They stay because of the consistency and the fear of the unknown, not out of happiness.
Well, and these are my hopes, maybe the purchase of the Nashville Predators by a Canadian based businessman, who seems hell-bent on moving the team to the great white north, will be the event that we can look back and say "This was the beginning of the end for Gary Bettman". Nashville, and its fans, could be the first domino to fall in a long line that would bring down the commish.
The reason Gary Bettman is still in power is because his vision, his legacy, is built on growing the game in the United States. Despite reduced US viewer ship, and overall support lower in the United States he has been able to dupe the owners into thinking that these are all short-term losses for the greater good of the game. So Gary Bettman has attached himself to growing the game in the United States.
It's not the goal that's the problem though, it's the incompetent execution. Gary Bettman saw the Northstars leave Minnesota and head to Dallas and become a success, so he decided Dixie and the west was Hockey's next frontier. Expansion teams and small market northern teams popped up in Anaheim, San Jose, Nashville, Miami, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Phoenix, Colorado, Columbus and Atlanta. He pulled up moderately successful franchises in Winnipeg, Quebec City, and Hartford in order to do this. He also bypassed reasonable hockey markets like Seattle, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Cleveland and other Midwestern cities where hockey actually has a foothold to head to Dixie. To his credit he hit Minnesota, Columbus and Colorado, and has had success in San Jose, but the franchises that don't see ice outside an arena have struggled mightily.
The ones that were criticized the most sharply were Nashville and pretty much the entire Southeastern division (minus the Capitals). The more Bettman defended these franchises, the more his stewardship of the NHL became ultimately linked to the success, or failure, of these franchises. His legacy as a commissioner hinges on these franchises, and their ability to eventually draw more US-based money and players into the league. Carolina and Tampa Bay have been mild successes, but overall these franchises have failed to get a foothold in their markets. Gary Bettman was able to quell the concerned owners with expansion franchise cash and the promise of "We're building the game here".
Now? Florida is struggling heavily, and so is Atlanta. Nashville may fall end of next season. If Mr. Balsillie moves the franchise to Ontario, exactly how is that growing the game in the United States, especially in the Sun Belt? Canada is pretty much saturated when it comes to support, EVERYONE plays/follows hockey there. Moving the franchise to Canada is not going to build the sport, help it grow, or any other cliché Bettman likes to say.
Bettman doesn't have any excuses either. Nashville's owner put a pretty solid effort into the city. He spent ten years reaching out, and losing money, to try and build a fan base. He may have made mistakes, but you can't argue that he didn't truly try to make the Predators part of the community. Bettman can't defend himself with a "Poor Ownership" excuse. The truth is... he's run out of excuses and defenses.
If Nashville moves to Canada, and Atlanta and Florida also move to colder climates it will signify to the owners that Bettman has failed as an NHL commissioner. All their investments, short-term losses they suffered through, poor US TV deals, and monetary losses will have been for nothing. Bettman's legacy will be that of a failed science experiment and he will have done the sport of hockey, hockey fans and frankly the southern states, a disservice.
Nashville's impending move can be avoided, and Bettman can get a stay of execution if the Nashville fans come out in droves next year. Bettman might also be Abel to convince Basillie to move to Kansas City instead of Southern Ontario, thus saving what little face he has left. Basillie could be the man to bring down Bettman though.
Maybe he can even rename his franchise something symbolic. I suggest the Hamilton Dominos.
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