Dear Gary Bettman: for the love of hockey, stop handing out the Stanley Cup

Gary Bettman (Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
Gary Bettman (Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Imagine the scene: the Los Angeles Kings beat the New York Rangers this Friday in front of their home crowd to win their second Stanley Cup in franchise history and their second championship in the past three seasons. The cheering masses at Staples Center are delirious from the moment the final game buzzer sounds, but when the public address announcer informs fans it’s time for the Cup presentation ceremony, the roof just about blows off the joint – because, walking down a red carpet toward center ice to hand over the silver trophy, is hockey legend Wayne Gretzky.

Now, back to the reality of what will happen, either tonight in Game 4 in Manhattan or whenever the Kings do the expected and close out the Cup Final series: the awarding of the Cup will be drowned in boos from fans, because the awarder of the Cup remains Gary Bettman. The NHL commissioner attracts raspberries and catcalls the way beauty contestants attract sashes and perma-smiles, and the league’s continued insistence on him presenting the greatest trophy in sports only sullies what could be a picture-perfect moment.

This is why I’ve said for years now that the NHL should do away with this tradition and allow the championship-winning franchise to have a team icon – either a former Cup-winner, or someone who has been with the franchise through thick and thin – present the captain with the Cup. When alternative options are clearly an improvement on the current setup, there’s no valid excuse for continuing to send Bettman on the ice.

This year, the icon would be Gretzky, who didn’t win a Cup in L.A., but who remains a gigantic component of the team’s history. When the Chicago Blackhawks won it last spring, they could’ve had Bobby Hull or Stan Mikita present Jonathan Toews with it. When the Boston Bruins were the league’s best team in 2011, Bobby Orr or Milt Schmidt could’ve given it to Zdeno Chara.

Again, there’s no good reason this can’t happen. When I asked Bettman about this for THN’s annual People of Power issue, he didn’t convince me otherwise.

“The fact is, as far as I know, it’s always been presented by the president or the commissioner,” Bettman said last December. “That’s how it’s typically done in other sports. It’s a nice tradition. It shows the winning team, the game and the Stanley Cup the appropriate level of respect.”

That’s right, Bettman believes being booed like he spoiled the plot of every TV series ever made is a “nice tradition”. You’d hate to see what he considers a nasty tradition. Maybe if he were being chased like Indiana Jones at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark, he’d be more willing to consider a change.

Simply because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t make the continuation of it appropriate. For decades, the NHL called its divisions by certain names until league brass chose to rename them. For at least a decade, the game was dominated by trap-happy coaches until the league decided that wasn’t a tradition it wanted to perpetuate.

The truth is, the NHL could change this philosophy before Game 4 begins, and there would be no outcry whatsoever. Indeed, Bettman and the owners who employ him would come away from the change looking magnanimous. The players would love it and the fans would love it. That’s more than good enough for me.

C’mon, Gary – reconsider your stance here. You’ve done a phenomenal job for your employers, but not nearly so much for other stakeholders in the game. Removing yourself – and the specter of the business of the game – from the Cup presentation ceremony would improve your battered image among fans.

They might even be willing to present you with a trophy of your own one day. Just not the Cup.