Archive | December, 2012

Giving Bettman Credit

27 Dec

reposted from The Sporting News – written by Jesse Spector

and I totally agree.  Most people are too short sighted (or too angry) to see what is actually happening.  They just want to blame one person and shoot their venom toward the commish.  Idiots.  Do you tell your 30 bosses how to run their company or do they tell you?  Exactly.


Gary Bettman hasn’t had many reasons to smile lately, but he got one on Thursday, when the United States opened its campaign at the World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia, with an 8-0 romp over Germany.

The NHL commissioner gets to feel a sense of pride not only because he is American, but because Team USA shows why Bettman is right to stick with a methodology that garners him an unfair amount of criticism. It isn’t about his handling of labor negotiations with the NHLPA — don’t worry, that’s still a mess — but about his larger-scale stewardship of the league.




Earlier this month, Time magazine became the latest outlet to skewer Bettman with an argument that shows even less forward thinking than shutting down a $3.3 billion industry over a desire for a few extra millions.

“There’s a strong argument to be made that there are too many NHL teams, or at least too many in places where ice hockey is not exactly a native sport, i.e., the American South,” Gary Belsky wrote in a Dec. 19 article. “This is the fault of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, long a champion of NHL expansion. But hockey in the U.S. is not a national sport … and not enough fans in the American Southwest and Southeast are as enthusiastic about hockey as they are about football, baseball, and basketball.”

The support for this argument is that the Atlanta Thrashers’ franchise value skyrocketed as soon as they became the Winnipeg Jets. Of course it did — the Thrashers were a miserably-run organization that, in 11 seasons win Atlanta, won zero playoff games. There might as well have never been a team there in the first place. How many kids in Georgia in the 2000s grew up with dreams of being the next Ilya Kovalchuk or Slava Kozlov as they headed to the golf course April after dreary April?

Non-traditional markets don’t become successful overnight, nor do they gain prominence in their communities simply by showing up. Tradition takes time to build, and it takes hard work to establish a sports franchise as part of the community. Pennsylvania did not get NHL hockey until the Flyers and Penguins joined the league as expansion teams in 1967. While Philadelphia was a quick success story, with Stanley Cup victories in 1974 and 1975, Pittsburgh had to wait until 1991 to win a Cup, and even after that, there was a time when the Penguins’ future in western Pennsylvania was in doubt.

Now, the Penguins and Flyers, formerly teams in non-traditional markets, are among the NHL’s most successful clubs, and Pennsylvania is becoming a more common source of NHL talent. Of the 28 players in league history listed on as being born in the Keystone State, 19 were born after the NHL’s 1967 expansion, including 16 who were born after 1980 and thus grew up with the Flyers-Penguins rivalry on full blast. Youth participation in hockey rises every year in the state, and the hockey culture becomes more and more ingrained.

The success of the Flyers and Penguins is such that on Thursday, the on-ice rivals announced that they are banding together to send “Team Pennsylvania” to compete in the 2013 Brick International Super Novice Tournament in Edmonton, a competition for 10-year-old players.

“The state of Pennsylvania … has become a hotbed for incredibly talented hockey players,” Comcast-Spectacor president Peter Luukko said in a statement. “We are excited to be working with the Penguins to have the Keystone State proudly represented at the upcoming Brick Tournament in Edmonton. We hope to showcase some of our region’s aspiring players to the youth hockey world.”

Think about that, then take a look at the box score from United States 8, Germany 0. The Americans had eight goals from eight players, and those players were born in six different states: Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Now, take a look at the most famous Team USA there ever was, the 1980 Olympic team. The entire roster was composed of players from four states: Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

The new geographic diversity of Team USA is not only because star defenseman Seth Jones’ father Popeye was playing for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks when he had a son. There had to be something that drew the young Jones to hockey, and in fact, he became a fan of the Colorado Avalanche while his father was playing for the Denver Nuggets. The Avalanche, of course, arrived in Denver under Bettman’s watch, and it was smart to put a team there even though the Colorado Rockies had previously failed, and moved to New Jersey to become the Devils.

It’s also not a fluke that this particular group of young American players is from different places. The U.S. national Under-17 team’s roster features players whose previous squads include the Boston Junior Bruins, Carolina Junior Hurricanes, Los Angeles Junior Kings, and Washington Little Caps. The Under-18 team has as many players from California (two) as it does from Massachusetts.

This is only the beginning. More American kids than ever are growing up with hockey in their lives, which means that more American kids than ever are seeing hockey as a sport worth playing. That’s because Bettman was willing to go to places where hockey had not gone before, and has been willing to stick with those franchises. It won’t work everywhere, as the California Golden Seals, Cleveland Barons, and Kansas City Scouts can attest, but the only way to turn non-traditional markets into traditional markets is to — surprise! — let tradition develop.

Of course, the only way to do that is to actually play games and be part of the culture, so Bettman’s smile from watching Thursday’s game should only be a quick one. The lockout is still a disaster for everyone involved.