A Candid Commissioner?

As a rule, I like to defend Gary Bettman. I’m a contrarian, and he’s a target of near-universal hatred. He has a comical appearance in a world that focuses too much on superficiality. His roots are in basketball, yet he runs a league that is notoriously insular. Aside from that, Bettman makes more sense viewed as a man who acts in the interests of the Board of Governors: everything he says, and everything he does are seemingly calculated to either advance their interests or improve his standing with them. As one example, expansion fits perfectly in that mindset; the team owners get a shiny pile of money, and at the same time Bettman gets to hire his new bosses. It’s a cozy arrangement.

Despite my inclination to defend the commissioner, I can’t deny that he’s optimistic to the point of dishonesty. Listening to Bettman speak, one would think that the NHL was free of controversy, piling up revenue, and that its franchises were all bastions of stability and good management. There’s never a cloud in Bettman’s portrait of the league.

In stark contrast to Bettman is David Andrews, the long time commissioner of the American Hockey League. Andrews has an interesting hockey background; he was a star goaltender in CIS and played for a few years in Europe (in the Netherlands, of all places) before going into coaching. Andrews won a Memorial Cup with the WHL’s Victoria Cougars; among the players he coached were hall-of-fame goaltender Grant Fuhr and the brothers Courtnall. Andrews moved on to take a job running the Edmonton Oilers’ AHL affiliate from 1987 to 1994; in 1990 he was named as the league’s outstanding executive and in 1993 he put together the team that won the Calder Cup. That was the job he left to become the commissioner of the AHL.

The other contrast between Bettman and Andrews worth noting is his willingness to acknowledge problems as problems, something that was evident during his annual state of the league address, recorded for us by Keith Wozniak of Let’s Go Amerks! (g/t Derek Zona).

There’s a long list of issues that Andrews acknowledges. The league wants to reduce its schedule but hasn’t been able to reach an agreement yet. The NHL wants AHL referees to get more coaching and supervision. Ticket revenue is down, although he expects it to rebound somewhat. About 1/3rd of teams are having down years, some of it because of the economy and some of it because of team performance. The league doesn’t plan to move west, for now the Flames’ affiliate in Abbotsford is simply a Calgary-driven move rather than a league plan. Hits to the head and from behind are an issue, and the league is going to suspend offenders. Obstruction is creeping back in and both the NHL and AHL will need to look at seriously addressing that if it continues. An NHL-style replay system is to expensive to setup, so they’ll continue without one.

Just once I’d like to see Gary Bettman do something like what Andrews did – frankly acknowledge the problems facing the league, and explain what steps the league has taken and what things are out of their hands. It probably won’t ever happen, though.

Comments (3)

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Willis, Sean Tomlinson. Sean Tomlinson said: RT @JonathanWillis: A new role model for #NHL commissioner Gary Bettman: http://bit.ly/7b3umo [...]

  2. There’s definitely good reasons why Andrews is almost universally respected in hockey, while Bettman is, and I’m being very generous here, quite a polarizing figure. Andrews coming up through the ranks in hockey sure doesn’t hurt, but he’s always been much more of a straight-shooter than Bettman. Although it’s not like Bettman started the tradition of dishonesty from the league’s head offices. At least Bettman is being visibly disingenuous, John Ziegler and his predecessors generally kept all their crooked undertakings behind closed doors…

    And what’s wrong with hockey in the Netherlands? I live in the Netherlands right now, in fact (Canadian expat, doing an internship with an international organization). The best thing about the local team, HYS The Hague, is that they have former Oiler/Lightning player Alexander Selivanov playing for them! Although Selivanov is currently injured and the team fired their coach earlier this month. I even “live blogged” one of the games for Hockey Zone Plus. The level of play isn’t nearly what it was in the German league game I saw during the holidays, but actually it’s not that bad.

  3. I respect Bettman as a businessman, but not as an Hockey/NHL figure. He’s too conservative to make bold moves like call Phoenix a failure and move it north, yet he’s all too eager to change the nature of the game in order to raise the entertainment value. Granted, Phoenix is a (unfortunately) long-term investment and the NHL has benefited from some of the rule changes, but he runs a sport that is rich in tradition and whose fans like to honor and stick with such tradition.

    Hockey fans and players want their game (for the most part) to be left alone. Bettman in my mind just needs to worry about maximizing revenue while letting the game be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *