NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has been at the top since 1993. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
National Hockey League
1185 Avenue of the Americas
New York, N.Y.
Congratulations on serving 16 years as the leader of the National Hockey League. Over that time you have worked very hard. Your greatest accomplishments certainly center on labor negotiations with your players’ union. You held firm in your attempts to bring “cost certainty” to a pro sports league that was spinning out of control.
The financial parameters you established for all teams have created a level playing field for all teams. Most NHL fans now start each season with optimism that their team will have the opportunity for a successful regular season, a decent shot at making a run in the playoffs and a glimmer of Stanley Cup hope. Much of this optimism can be traced back to the competitive parity brought on by the existing collective bargaining agreement. The fans recovery period over the loss of an entire season to bring order to the NHL’s financial mess took quite some time, however, the pain and anger is subsiding.
Your board of governors must acknowledge your astute legal skills helped bring temporary labor peace and sanity amongst competing clubs. Your governors must also recognize your leadership over the growth of the game, expansion strategy and television reach in the U.S. are long-term embarrassments.
Sixteen years ago, you arrived on the NHL scene with no knowledge of hockey and no vision of how to grow pro hockey through television broadcast and other means.
When I was a kid growing up in Ottawa, Ken Dryden was my favorite player. I would swap a set of Guy Lafleur, Bobby Clarke and Chico Resch trading cards (plus two sticks of the crappy gum that came in the O-Pee-Chee packs) with my mates for one Ken Dryden card. I clearly remember the cool image of Dryden using his stick as a leaning post between play.
In the summer of 1979, I was devastated to hear that Dryden – out of the red, white and blue – was retiring to pursue his legal career. He had just won his fourth straight Vezina trophy and fourth consecutive Stanley Cup with the Habs when he suddenly called it quits. It was so bewildering that, arguably, the best goalie in the NHL was retiring while still at the pinnacle of his game. Years later, I came to realize that Dryden was simply calling his own shots and I came to respect him for that courageous move. He left while still on top.
The time has come for you to retire as the commissioner of the NHL while you carry some respect.
There is a noticeable, growing groundswell developing among fans who want a new commissioner of their sport. As we both know, fans are the most important stakeholder in the NHL with the quietest voice. (You know my feelings about your track record when it comes to fan relations, but there’s no need to revive that dead horse today.)
If you truly care about the NHL, you would seize the moment and exit gracefully before the next round of CBA negotiations starts heating up. And what better time to usher in a new leader of the league than when the NHL Players’ Association is undergoing a governance review and is leaderless for the next few months? There’s no risk to the league when the NHL’s nemesis – the NHLPA – is in organizational turmoil.
I ask that you resign before January 1, 2010. If you are still in office in the new year, I will organize the 30,000 members of NHL Fans’ Association to encourage the NHL governors to replace you as commissioner. We feel that a new commissioner would be the best thing for the NHL.
I hope we are not facing off in the new year. Gary, timing is everything and it’s time for you to borrow a chapter from Ken Dryden and walk away from the game gracefully.
The co-founder of the NHL Fans' Association, Jim Boone is the chief operating officer for the Canadian Resident Matching Service and the president of Litnets Inc.