100 games a season: Gare Joyce's puck blog

Just like being in the scouts' & press' lounge, without the bad coffee and day-old Timbits

Location: Toronto

I've written for ESPN The Magazine and espn.com the last five years. My work has made the "notable" list of the Best American Sports Writing seven times and won four Canadian National Magazine Awards. My most recent book is Future Greats and Heartbreaks: A Year Undercover in the Secret World of NHL Scouts. I've written three other sports books: When the Lights Went Out: How One Brawl Ended Hockey's Cold War and Changed the Game; Sidney Crosby: Taking the Game by Storm; and The Only Ticket Off the Island: Baseball in the Dominican Republic.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Da Commish: Bettman and the New (York) NHL

For various reasons Gary Bettman has been the subject of a lot of a media intro- and retrospection this week. Today The Hat takes a few cuts in the Globe and Mail


citing the 14th anniversary of Bettman's installation as commissioner. Why is 14 so significant?Which anniversary is that? Rubber? No, in fact it is ivory.

1 year is a paper anniversary
2 years is a
cotton anniversary
3 years is a
leather anniversary
4 years is a
linen anniversary
5 years is a
wood anniversary
6 years is an
iron anniversary
7 years is a
wool anniversary
8 years is a
bronze anniversary
9 years is a
copper anniversary
10 years is a
tin (or aluminium) anniversary
11 years is a
steel anniversary
12 years is a
silk anniversary
13 years is a
lace anniversary
14 years is an
ivory anniversary
15 years is a
crystal anniversary

Maybe we should have held off until next year ... when the impact of the commisioner's infuence crystallizes. Then again, now might be an appropriate time to take him to tusk.

The media celebrates Bettman Day a couple of times a year--when the All-Star Game rolls around (in your non-Olympic and non-lock-out years) and when he has his media day during the Stanley Cup finals. These, of course, are the two most uncomfortable days in the sporting year.

First, the All-Star Game. The MacLean guy hectoring GB in intermission, well, it's like a sparring session between the high school class president and the captain of the glee club--with the football team looking on. You want to tell the two panty-waists to take it outside. The MacLean guy in his guise as journalist (as opposed to soup pitchman) plays a Canadian card or two and Bettman tries to let the air out of his accent while trying to talk the on-the-ice nuts and bolts of hockey like he played it. To what end, I dunno.

Then the Stanley Cup. When Gary Bettman walks into the room, imagine the 27 Yankees waiting to take batting practice and a pinata is hung at home plate. Never have so many been so anxious to vent gripes that have built up over a long hockey season. It's enough to make the scribes push aside a free meal. For a few minutes.

Whatever virtues Da Commish has (and I don't doubt there are a few) aplomb with media isn't one of them. Everyone knows the drill: He doesn't put out fires--he tells you that he doesn't smell smoke. Bill Daly is much more savvy (he should wear white and an earring and then he actually would pass for Mr Clean).

I think The Hat is right when he writes that you can't blame Bettman entirely for the misbegotten expansion (and franchise relocation) southward. Some moves don't have his fingerprints on them at all. Others were probably executed by him but not necessarily initiated by him.

One thing though ... and it's a matter that goes to appearances. Under Bettman's tenure the NHL has become perceived as a New York league. Maybe it was there to an extent before--at least a league that moved on an axis in NY and another in Canada, first Montreal, then Toronto. No longer. Now it's New York, first, foremost. I suspect he always thought this was a key to legitimacy. He never did get the view from up north--how hockey's Canadian base would feel alienated and abandoned. That's not to say that previous administrations were loved or admired--just that they didn't inspire the hostility that Bettman and Co. have in Canada. Is there nothing more telling than the post-lock-out draft being held on an invitation-only basis at the Westin in Ottawa. Such was Da Commish's fear and dread of booing when he was going to be introduced if the occasion was staged out at the arena in Kanata.

While public sympathies in the last labour dispute leaned heavily on management's side, it would be delusional for Bettman, Daly and the rest to think that they won the fans over. No, in fact, the fans sided against the players and with the teams in their market, rather than with Bettman and the rest. And lucky for Bettman management's foils in that go-round, Goodenow, Saskin and Pulver, (Howard, Fine, Howard) were even less likeable than he is.

The fine print ... and nothing to do with Larry Fine ... years back, in the first or second year of his tenure and before the '94 lockout, I asked Bettman about his wife ... he said that she was, I believe, a psychologist (please, no attitude from the NHL offices if she is a psychiatrist) ... anyways, I asked him what she thought of his work ... absolute lockdown and cold stare, automatic, like knee-jerk reflex ... family is off the table ... I thought that it might make him a little more human ... he didn't or didn't want to see it that way ... to find a colder fish you'd have to crack open a Captain Highliner box