Gary Bettman: NHL's Chosen One

Published: March 26th 2010
in News >> World

Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner
Pic: wikimedia commons

Although some take issue with Gary Bettman, saying he’s been trying to Americanize our very Canadian sport, this New York native has attributed to the rapid growth in revenue the NHL has experienced over the last few years. This controversial figure is Jewish and whether we like it or not he has scored a major hat-trick by making hockey more accessible in the States and creating the Canadian Assistance Plan a revenue sharing program that encourages American teams to give money to the lesser market Canadian franchises; Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa and Edmonton.


After studying Industrial and Labour Relations at Cornell, Bettman received a Juris Doctor degree from New York University School of Law. In 1981, he joined the National Basketball Association working in the marketing and legal department until he was promoted to the league’s general counsel and senior vice president. Bettman played a key role in the development of the soft salary cap, a system the NBA still uses to this day.


Gary began his tenure as commissioner of the National Hockey League in 1993 where he aided in the league’s expansion, placing teams in the Southern United States in order to increase hockey’s popularity in a market dominated by football and basketball. By adding franchises in Atlanta, Nashville and Columbus, and allowing Minnesota to get a new team in 2000, Bettman increased the NHL to the present 30 teams we are familiar with.


However, Bettman has been criticized for moving existing teams to new locations. The Minnesota North Stars became the Dallas Stars in 1993. The Quebec Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche in 1995. The Winnipeg Jets were sent to Phoenix where they would be known as the Coyotes and the Hartford Whalers were moved to North Carolina to be renamed the Hurricanes. These high-profile moves were disparaged by hockey fans in Canada and the North-Eastern United States where the sport’s popularity is rampant. Some critics have even accused Bettman of having an anti-Canadian agenda. The most vocal being Canadian billionaire Jim Balsilie who on numerous occasions has sparred with Bettman while trying to purchase the Pittsburg Penguins in 2006, the Nashville Predators in 2007 and the Phoenix Coyotes in 2009. Should Balsillie be successful in ever purchasing an NHL franchise he has said he will be relocating the team to Hamilton, Ontario, a move some speculate is to spite Bettman.


Under Bettman’s residence with the NHL he oversaw two instances of labour unrest. The first occurred in 1994-1995. As Bettman and the rest of the NHL front office employees pushed for a salary cap, the players themselves fought to keep their bloated paycheques intact, leading the lockout to last 104 days. This caused the usual 84 game season to be shortened to 48 games. The second lockout took place in 2004-2005, which led to the cancellation of the entire hockey season. This marked the first time in North America that a league had to cancel an entire season due to a labour stoppage. As with the 1994-1995 lockout, the issue of player’s salary was on the board.


Gary Bettman hosts a weekly talk show on XM Satellite radio called NHL Home Ice. If you have questions, comments or are a disgruntled Nordiques fan, Bettman takes calls from his listeners.

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