This week's mailbag has a distinct theme, but I've hidden it carefully inside the column. Best of luck discovering what it is.
Why do NHL owners keep Gary Bettman as commissioner? Since taking over, he has ruined the NHL.
While the lost season didn't help hockey, I believe Bettman is the main problem. The switch to Versus over ESPN and expansion into southern us has hurt hockey horribly. How much longer will owners keep this guy? He is ruining a great game.
I wouldn't go so far as to say Bettman is the league's biggest problem. However, his legacy as it currently stands certainly wouldn't qualify him as a first-ballot candidate for most people's idea of a Commissioner's Hall of Fame.
More than a couple hockey observers believe the move to Versus will go down as one of the worst business decisions in pro sports history. Accepting the status boost Versus promised over the status quo (albeit, one with millions more eyeballs) that ESPN offered was an extraordinary prideful choice by Bettman, one the league will continue to pay for every minute until it gets back on ESPN.
But don't hold your breath waiting for the palace coup's beginnings. Bettman earned himself a Â‘get out of jail forever' card from the owners after he slapped around Bob Goodenow and the NHLPA during the lockout. Â‘Cost certainty' is what owners understand and appreciate most, so the NHL's Decider will continue deciding until he decides he doesn't want to decide anymore.
All I would like to know or at least try to understand is this: why Gary Bettman continues to think the United States, and in particular, the southern United States, is the place to make money for the NHL? (He would've worded it differently, saying Â“the greatest game in the world is becoming available to even more peopleÂ” or something like that, but since we all know that's a load of crap, let's stick with my initial version.
Why does he continue to think the NHL needs to change the rules of the game so much to accommodate people who would rather watch NASCAR anyway? What's his deal? When is he going to leave the NHL alone so I can actually truly enjoy it?
He's tainted hockey with his Grade A B.S. and I want to ask you: Why? Why does he think it's the right thing to do? Is it not obvious that it's driving fans away?
Somebody needs to condense the nonsense.
All the best,
Matthew Jansens, Calgary
Whew. That's a lot of questions. But your level of disgust impresses me, young Skywalker. Keep it up and you might have a future in the column-writing business.
To a degree, I can understand Bettman's plan for expansion into the Southern U.S.; in order for hockey to thrive and survive on a long-term basis, it must succeed south of Canada's southern border; therefore, growing the game in non-traditional markets makes much sense.
I also confess that I do think the game needed not so much a rules overhaul, but rather an enforcement overhaul. The NHL had swung so far into the realm of holding back its top talents, it needed a course correction by any means necessary.
Here's what's really plagued the league: it took years (and the lockout) before it ever truly focused on fixing its lax officiating standards, standards that allowed defense-minded coaches to hold the game hostage. And after all the hype about the firm stance the league would take on clutchers and grabbers last season, look where we're at now Â– with the Â‘crackdown' in ruins during the Stanley Cup final.
Yet, even after that, even after the Horse's Ass debacle on NBC, even after scoring declines, even after fans have expressed their disgust with the unbalanced regular season schedule, Bettman continues to put on a happy face and spread sunshine all over the place.
For contrast, look at NBA boss David Stern. That guy introduced a crappy new basketball this year, only his players hated it with a passion, so he changed his mind and went back to the old ball after a couple months.
If Bettman was confronted with the same problem, he'd have put it into Parliamentary/Congressional-type hearings for three years, then come back with a recommendation to go half old ball, half new ball.
Your last Screen Shots column was well written. Do you think Gary Bettman read it as well?
Thanks for the compliment. I doubt Bettman has read it. He's likely far too busy searching for silver linings among the league's numerous clouds.
Experienced first hand the Versus/ESPN thing.
Two weeks working in Michigan, nice hotel, ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN Classic, ESPN News Â– but no hockey on any channel.
Got inventive, though. Found a Â‘sports bar/restaurant' that showed the games. It was kids night; after the kids ate and went home to bed the place was empty.
I'm not a marketing guy or gambling man, but I'd bet any money the NHL needs a better marketing job.
Hey! Maybe it's the initials Â– No Hockey Lately. Could be confusing.
I know there's no question in there, but I felt compelled to show readers another example of another satisfied NHL customer.
Sometimes it's like we're the Maytag Repairmen of the sports fan community.
But not to worry, my friend. It's all part of the master plan. Just ask you-know-who.
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