Principe on Bettman: 20 years and counting

His middle name is Bruce. He was born June 2, 1952. His nationality is American and he’s married with three kids. He is (drum roll please) Gary Bettman.

It was 20 years ago today that Bettman was appointed commissioner of the NHL. He replaced Gil Stein, the fifth and final president of the NHL. Stein had the job for a year and later made it into the Hockey Hall of Fame, but withdrew after allegations that he manipulated his own nomination.

It was under those circumstances that Stein stepped away and Bettman took over. His first official day on the job was Feb. 1, 1993. He came to the NHL from the NBA where he was a senior vice president and general counsel. Born in Queens, N.Y., educated at Cornell University and a graduate in 1974, Bettman then went to the New York University School of Law where he received a degree and off to work he went. In 1981 he joined the NBA and was there until he jumped from one pro league to another.

His NHL mandate was to sell the game in the U.S., end labour unrest, complete expansion plans and to ‘modernize’ the old guard within the ownership ranks. Expansion wasn’t an issue, as new franchises in Florida and Anaheim debuted in 1993-94. There was a steady stream of new franchises after that. Nashville came into the picture in 1998, Atlanta in 1999, Minnesota and Columbus in 2000, expanding the league to 30 teams. In this regard, Bettman did what he was expected to.

Avoiding labor unrest, however, was a much different story and a recurring theme throughout his career.

No matter how many years — or decades — Bettman is on the job it will be the three work stoppages that will haunt his legend. The first lockout lasted 104 days, the second one an entire season and the third one is currently at 87 days. Do the math and that’s more than 500 days (and counting) the league has been locked out. It’s the biggest reason why Bettman is booed by fans every time he makes an appearance – whether it’s at the draft, when handing out the Stanley Cup or anything in between, Bettman is greeted by a chorus of boos.

We also know he hasn’t exactly been beloved by players. Remember Chris Chelios threatening the safety of Bettman and his family?

Most recently he’s been called a ‘cancer’ and an ‘idiot’. Those are the things that we’ve heard publicly. I can only imagine some of the adjectives being used to describe the commissioner when the players get together to talk about the current state of the lockout. Does anyone like Bettman? The answer is yes: his family and the owners.

Whatever you want to say about Bettman, would this guy still be on the job if the owners had lost faith in him? A resounding no. Billionaires don’t hang on to an employee if they believe he isn’t doing what they want. When Bettman talks he’s speaking the words of his employers. Enough of the owners still believe in his vision for the game two decades after they hired him.

China is a traditional gift for a 20-year marriage anniversary. For the NHL and Bettman, the best gift possible would be a new CBA. Good luck and happy anniversary, Gary.

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