February 2, 1993: Gary Bettman’s first day on the job

HOCKEY; Opening Day for N.H.L.s First Commissioner – New York Times (2/2/1993)

The first week of the shortest month of the year offers professional hockey a rare share of the American sports spotlight. […] So the stage was set yesterday at National Hockey League headquarters in Manhattan, where Gary Bettman took office as the first commissioner in the leagues 76-year history.

Bettmans mission is simple: [1] Put a stop to labor unrest; [2] sell the product in television’s mainstream marketplace; [3] change the violent image of the game; [4] curb salary inflation; [5] force enlightened self-interest on reluctant, old-fashioned owners; [6] expand contacts with European developmental leagues and markets; [7] settle the divisive issue of possible Olympic involvement, and [8] help launch several new expansion teams. If Bettman can do all this, he will be a bargain at his salary of more than $1 million a year.

How about if he can do…let’s see…I’ll give him full credit for #7 and #8, partial credit for #2, #5 and #6, and abject failure eliciting howls of derisive laughter for #1, #3 and #4. And he gets $8 million a year now.

So not such a bargain, no.

“I think there is a perception that the sport needs to be improved from a public relations standpoint and a marketing standpoint,” said Bettman, 40, who was hired from the National Basketball Association after 12 years as its third in command. […]

“We’re going to have to improve the way we are perceived, the way we are followed, the way we look. We can be worthy of attention. The goal is attention so that NBC would love to promote us during the Super Bowl […].”

How about if you just take their $200 million and cancel the season?

Bettman […] went over issues he has been discussing continuously since his hiring was announced in December. He will keep an open mind, he said, to suggestions of rules changes about eliminating the center red line as a restraint to passing

Check. Well done.

and about further toughening the rules against fighting.

Oh well.

He is concerned that the Edmonton and Minnesota franchises might move, he said, but he hopes they don’t.

One did. The other didn’t.

Yes, he’d like to see more fans in the seats in Hartford, Long Island and New Jersey.

That didn’t work out so well either.

He already has talked informally with Bob Goodenow, the head of the players union, and hopes to soon move the dialogue toward serious negotiation aimed at developing a true partnership before next season.

The season after next was shortened to 48 games after locking-out the Goodenow-led union members.

He might consider a draft lottery, like the one in the NBA, and a conference-based playoff formula, like the one in the NBA,


and a salary cap, also like the NBA’s.

Check. Consider it “considered.”

But for those nervous Canadians and hard-core fans in the United States, Bettman said he won’t “disturb the basic framework.”

I think I will refrain from any more snarky asides, and just focus on this: since 1993, under Bettman’s watch, the NHL added the following franchises:

And orchestrated the following relocations:

  • Minnesota North Stars to Dallas (1993)
  • Quebec Nordiques to Denver (1995)
  • Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix (1996)
  • Hartford Whalers to North Carolina (1997)
  • Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg (2011)

That’s six expansions and five relocations. Now, let’s go back to Elliotte Friedman’s list of teams that are (believed to be) supporting Bettman in this lock-out:

While the players believe Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs is calling the shots, an educated guess at the final group includes but may not be limited to Anaheim, Columbus, Florida, the Islanders, Phoenix, St. Louis, Washington and Dallas — enough to block any agreement from getting done.

That’s half of the teams on the first list, and half of the additional teams on the second list (Atlanta is on both lists). That’s ten teams, five of which are holding us all hostage now. That’s a majority of the teams on Friedman’s list of nine (Boston, St. Louis, Washington and the Isles being the other four).

From this, I conclude that Bettman’s legacy of expansion/relocation into non-traditional markets is directly responsible for the current lock-out. Without the political support of those very same franchises — one of which is owned by the NHL — we would be watching NHL hockey now.

Shorter me: the Bettman experiment has blown up in his face. And this is what that looks like.


  1 comment for “February 2, 1993: Gary Bettman’s first day on the job

  1. USHA#17
    November 2, 2012 at 7:05 PM

    Who cares? Get rid of Columbus, Carolina, Phoenix and Minnesota and Anheim. Spread the tops players across the league and the games will instantly be more compelling and involving.

    Then move Dallas back to St. Paul and Nashville to Quebec. Send Bettman to another sport where he can work his magic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.