Gary Bettman was named the first NHL commissioner 20 years ago Tuesday, which also marked the 87th day in which players have been locked out in a labor dispute over a new collective bargaining agreement. Facts are facts, but the numbers tell a greater story about the NHL’s past, present and future.
Let’s start with 20.
Bettman didn’t take his post until Feb. 1, 1993, but he was hired as commissioner after a meeting Dec. 11, 1992, among NHL board of governors in Florida. His anniversary is hardly grounds for mass celebration. But his tenure in totality should not be pushed through a shredder, either, as many would believe.
Revenues soared from $400 million in his first year to $3.3 billion last year. But with the big money also came three work stoppages. The rise in popularity of the NHL was not entirely his doing. The latest labor war was not entirely his fault. He’s not a beast in professional sports. But he’s also not a monster.
Six teams were added after he took over, including two who were already approved before he was hired. Three teams relocated in the 1990s. Winnipeg lost the Jets to Phoenix and later gained the Thrashers from Atlanta. Phoenix has been under NHL control for the last two seasons.
Bettman helped guide several teams, including the Sabres, through bankruptcy. The game grew in places such as Dallas and Tampa Bay at a higher rate than interest waned in traditional markets such as Minneapolis and Quebec City. Carolina won a Stanley Cup, creating more fans than it ever lost after moving from Hartford.
It was a net gain. Overall, the league is stronger, and players are making exponentially more money than they did when he arrived.
Dave Andreychuk, for example, scored 41 goals and made $421,000 in 1991-92, or before Bettman. Six years later, he scored 14 goals and made $2.6 million. The average salary jumped from $1.7 million to $2.4 million in the past seven years. When players say money is askew, they’re right for reasons they never considered.
Hockey is played across the country now more than ever, but it still isn’t a giant in team sports when standing alongside football, baseball and basketball. Hockey is a world game, but it can be, and it has been, reduced to a regional sport and an international punch line that’s easily ignored in times of turmoil. That’s what we have today.
And that leads us to … 87.
Bettman works for the owners, not the other way around. His marching order is finding the best possible deal with the players. He’s not alone in this battle with NHLPA chief Donald Fehr. He has owners standing behind him, namely Buffalo-based Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, Wild owner Craig Leipold and Flyers owner Ed Snider.
All three owners signed players to long-term deals just before the previous collective bargaining agreement expired. Now, all three are demanding, through Bettman, that such deals be removed from the next CBA. If the owners weren’t satisfied with Bettman’s performance in the lockout, he could be fired tomorrow.
Not a chance. Bettman is taking a public beating for decisions made by the very people paying him in the very league he oversees. The lockout has reached 87 days. This season is ruined. How much the lockout will affect the NHL’s future is unknown.
And that leads us to … No. 87.
Sidney Crosby is the name and face of the NHL. More than any other player, he helped pull the game out of the last lockout. He helped sell the first Winter Classic. He won a Stanley Cup and a gold medal. He made the game chic for kids who needed a Gretzky and cool for their parents who remembered Gretzky.
Crosby would be collecting an $8.7 million salary this year if he weren’t spending his days in a suit and tie, standing behind Fehr. He’s in the final year of a six-year contract before a 12-year deal kicks in with the same salary. But Crosby can’t earn his money or sell the NHL if there is no NHL.
And that’s lead us back to … 20.
If play resumes this season and Crosby completes his next contract, it would mark 20 seasons in the NHL for Sid the Kid. It would be a milestone worth celebrating. By then, Bettman and most of the owners will be long gone.
Players share blame
Paul Tagliabue’s decision to overturn suspensions handed down by Roger Goodell was a victory for Saints players involved in the bounty scandal. Tagliabue mostly blamed defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the former Bills head coach, for the smash-for-cash system designed to injure other players.
No problem with the former commissioner coming down hard on Williams, but weren’t the players grown men who knew the difference between right and wrong? You would think, given their experience in football and familiarity with the weight room, that they were capable of making the right decisions and standing up to Williams.
Jonathan Vilma, for one, had no problem taking a stand against Goodell.
Charles Barkley created a mini-stir in Miami for having the audacity to tell the truth about Dwyane Wade. Sir Charles didn’t call him a bum. He merely told his TNT audience when anybody could see, that Wade was showing signs of age.
Wade failed to reach double-figures in scoring twice in a three-game stretch last month. He had just 13 points on 3-of-13 shooting and one assist in Miami’s loss to the Knicks last week, prompting Barkley’s critique.
“The toughest thing for Dwyane Wade is understanding that he’s starting to lose his talent and now he has to learn how to play below the basket,” Barkley said. “The toughest thing when you’re a great player or very athletic, when you can’t jump over a building anymore, you have to learn how to play.”
Wade responded by scoring 26 points in each of his next two games, making 20 of 25 shots from the floor.
“It means Charles Barkley needs to shut up,” LeBron James said after a 101-92 win over Atlanta. “I mean, the man’s shooting 80 percent from the floor in the last couple games. Come on, man.”
No Hall for cheaters
You can add Barry Larkin to the list of Hall of Fame baseball players who believe players who used performance-enhancing drugs don’t belong in Cooperstown. The former Reds shortstop shared his thoughts in an interview with The Associated Press in New York.
“I think if you cheated, no, you don’t deserve it because I know how difficult it was for me to get there and how difficult it was for me just to compete on an everyday basis,” Larkin said. “I think if you cheated I think you made a decision, and I don’t think you belong.”
Larkin drew a parallel between PED users and Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader who was banned for betting on baseball. Larkin said their accomplishments would be recognized in the Hall, which wouldn’t equate to getting inducted.
One difference: Pete knew the rules and broke them. The cheaters used PEDs at a time Major League Baseball didn’t have rules banning them.
Manny Pacquiao, a champion in eight weight classes, had barely regained consciousness after getting knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez last week when he suggested he would return for a fifth fight against his welterweight rival.
Pacquiao’s wife and mother made public pleas after the fight for him to retire from boxing. Longtime trainer Freddie Roach encouraged Pacquiao to fight again, claiming he dominated before getting rocked in the sixth round.
“I saw Manny at his best in our training camp in many years and I saw him at his best [Saturday],” Roach told the Manila Star. “Manny should be back in saddle at once and fight as early as possible. If reports are true that he wants Marquez for the fifth time, so be it.”
Pacquiao fans in his homeland reached for excuses, citing his failure to perform the sign of the cross before the fight or carry a rosary while getting into the ring. His mother claimed in television interviews his decision to become a born-again Christian compromised his training, which caused him to lose. Uh, any chance it was Marquez’s right hand? Quotable
Tom Brady, during his radio show with WEEI in Boston, on the Patriots as they prepared for the Texans: “We were probably the most miserable team that’s won seven straight.”
12 - Date, in December 1965, on which Bears running back Gale Sayers rushed for six touchdowns. He had four rushing, one receiving and another on an 85-yard punt return.
12 - Date, in December 1971, on which the Los Angeles Lakers set an NBA record with 21 straight wins en route to their 33-game winning streak.
12 - Date, in December 1981, on which Wayne Gretzky scored his 50th goal, in his 39th game, marking earlier any player reached the milestone in one season.
• The Lakers were 9-12 going into their game Tuesday against Cleveland after four losses in five games. They had allowed 100 points or more nine times in their past 10 games and lost six of 13 games at Staples Center. It didn’t stop Ron Artest, er, Metta World Peace, from saying they were the best team in the NBA. “Just look at our roster,” he said.
• Jack Taylor’s record 138-point night for Division III Grinell College has looked more like a public-relations stunt than some kid with a hot hand. Taylor attempted 108 shots.