Tuesdays With Hildy: Has Gary Bettman Ever Done Anything Right?

Bruce Bennett

Everyone hates Gary Bettman, and that's getting more profound as the lockout slogs forward. Has he ever done anything that's helped the league?

The NHL lockout doesn't look like it'll be ending any time soon, and a lot of people are pointing the finger of blame at the NHL, deputy commissioner Bill Daly, and especially at commissioner Gary Bettman. Quite literally, Gary Bettman might be the most hated man, let alone commissioner, in major league sports. This is an impressive achievement considering that the NHL is fourth among the popular leagues in the US, and I'm sorry, but Canada's population isn't big enough to make up that gap. The responses to the questions of "What has Gary Bettman done wrong?" and "What has Gary Bettman done right?" are as different as night and day. One'll probably be a huge soapbox style rant that'd do a street corner preacher proud, and the other'll be some variant on stunned silence that you would even consider asking that question.

Jeff Gordon of STLToday.com recognizes that the former response is probably the one that most people will have:

The impact of this latest player lockout will be profound. The fan base will erode dramatically in many markets.

Some owners will opt out of the business. A team or two could move. Dozens of players will see their careers end. Others may opt to remain in Europe, where the leagues run without interruption.

Much of the progress made since the last lockout will be lost.

Hockey will remain a fringe sport in this country, well out of the mainstream. The NHL will remain a sad example of how not to run a professional sport.

History will remember Bettman's regime as uneven at best. It didn't have to end this way.

True enough. Bettman rubs everyone the wrong way, and right now so does the NHL. The posturing, the condescending attitude towards players and fans, the smug, self-satisfied smirk on Bettman's face: the league couldn't've dreamed of a better spokesperson. He exudes smarm.

This smarm is what makes people automatically hate him, or at the very least it makes people ignore some accomplishments. Gordon is nice enough to point some out to us. The Winter Classic? Yep. Southern expansion? Generally successful except for Atlanta and Phoenix, but in those cases the market isn't 100% the problem. The virtual elimination of clutch-and-grab hockey has made games more enjoyable to watch, and the increased scoring that the league worked towards encouraging after the last lockout has brought some new fans in. The league has a successful TV contract and some pretty good marketing deals. All of these things have happened under Bettman's tenure as commissioner. Are they necessarily attributable to him? No, not especially. Has he at least encouraged this stuff to happen? Yes.

So, my question to you is twofold this week: first off, can you think of other good stuff that's happened under Bettman's tenure and secondly, is there any way that the good could outweigh the bad?

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