Gary Bettman’s NHL Realignment And Relocation
Gary Bettman will be remembered for quite a long time, for better or worse. The commissioner of the NHL took over a league that looked dramatically different in amount of teams, location of teams, and distribution of Canadian and American franchises back in the early 90’s. Since then, Bettman has been subject to the criticism of fans of the game across the entire continent of North America thanks to some questionable decisions; yet the man who brought hockey to the Southeastern and Western portions of the United States has also seen some progress and success in the league.
The good and the bad are sometimes hard to distinguish. Yes, he brought hockey to Nashville, Raleigh, Florida, and Atlanta, but he also took away proud franchises with deep legacies in Winnipeg, Quebec, and Hartford. He gained lucrative contracts with ESPN in 1998 and Reebok in 2007, but also presided over two labor stoppages, one per decade. Now, the league looks to be shaken up again. Rumors swirl in Phoenix that the team, owned by the league since filing for bankruptcy in 2009, is headed to Quebec for the second installment of the Nordiques. Further still, a radical realignment plan was proposed that features a four-division set up, replacing the current six-division format. However, the NHL Players Association voiced their displeasure with such a change, refusing to approve the attempt spawned after the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Canada, creating geographical difficulties in the Southeast. The NHLPA was unhappy with the fact that the realignment would put tension on certain teams because of more traveling and because some divisions would have 7 teams, others 8, causing it to be harder to make the playoffs in the larger divisions.
So, even with the good things, Bettman’s legacy is currently tarnished by some actions that will never be forgiven by hockey fans. Those in markets where teams once were, even if the relocations were direct results of financial troubles, will never forgive the commissioner. Our neighbors from the north strongly believe that Bettman has an “anti-Canadian” agenda, citing the removal of the Jets and Nordiques in the 90’s and Bettman’s fierce protection of franchises such as Nashville and Phoenix when they were in jeopardy of moving to Hamilton, Ontario or Quebec. And others will never forget the gimmicky “glowing puck” that appeared on FOX broadcasts of the NHL under Bettman’s reign in the 90’s; hockey traditionalists hated this infamous FoxTrax system.
As a Coyotes and Thrashers fan living in Georgia, it’s hard to find bright spots in the commissioners time in power when I can only blame Gary for crushing the futures of my favorite teams. Sure, he brought hockey to untraditional markets in the South and Southwest, but the Thrashers didn’t have to move to Winnipeg; and Bettman’s league was $60 million richer after the “relocation fee” was paid. If the Coyotes leave too, I blame the commish and I don’t think I’ll ever personally pardon his actions. So next time you hear the entire crowd booing when Bettman steps on to the ice to present the Stanley Cup in May, understand that it’s all passion, not disrespect, for an elegant sport muddled by a weak leader.