Looking back, it has been a hectic 10 years for the National Hockey league; it is astounding how different the league is now. It all started with the debacle involving the former Phoenix Coyotes franchise. Commissioner Gary Bettman persisted in keeping the hopeless franchise away from billionaire Jim Balsille, simply because Balsille wanted to move the team to Hamilton, a market where they actually care about hockey. Then Wayne Gretzky left the turmoil and the leagues greatest icon has yet to return to the league in any capacity. Sure enough attendance was worse than ever in Phoenix and the team eventually was sold to a group of oil investors who moved the team to Houston in 2011, where attendance has been mediocre at best since. Things then got worse.
Bettman’s contract expired after 2012; the league’s of governors, (mainly fuelled by the interests of the small American franchises) decided to extend Bettman’s contract for an shocking 8 more years. Then Bettman with much more leverage took the league on a ride. Firstly he awarded two expansion teams to Indianapolis and Seattle, who came into the league in 2015, again shutting out Hamilton. This distributed the talent in the league even further creating no consistency and very few elite teams, which fluctuated interest in many markets greatly. Most of the American casual fans grew tired of their teams being good and bad from just one season to the next, and many fans just turned away. With less American interest, and almost every sunbelt team struggling greatly, Bettman became desperate and used his influence to move the Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators to Milwaukee and Kansas City respectively in 2017. Bettman’s gamble did next to nothing to bring in more American interest and only infuriated the Canadian fans who have been so loyal to the league.
Hockey icon Don Cherry left Hockey Night in Canada once the league moved two Canadian teams, out of frustration, and the NHL lost another icon after Gretzky. Hockey legends Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman, resigned their posts with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings respectively, due to the fact they felt the league was changing too fast.
No major U.S cable network wanted anything to do with the NHL, and NBC and OLN, two of the NHL`s longstanding partners, bailed quickly and now Americans can enjoy professional hockey on channel 742; IFN 2 (Ice Fishing Network 2 (other ice related activities)). Hockey Night in Canada is the only TV revenue keeping the NHL afloat now. To make up for it Bettman had sponsoring take over the game and now, the players play for the elusive “GEICO Cup”.
To think of the promise the league showed back after the 09 season, after the thrilling playoffs in which the Pittsburgh Penguins came on top with superstar Sidney Crosby, it`s almost mindboggling to see the league where is now. Now the league has too many teams, in markets that are fair-weather, has no T.V following, and is now among obscure sports such as triathlon, curling and cycling in the States, and now has become gimmicky with sponsoring its trophy and lost all their tradition and their great icons.
The direction taken by Bettman has been disastrous, if only we could go back to 2012 and not extend Bettman, the league would be better off, and potentially thriving. Hindsight is 20/20, but it might help if this article can be read in 2009.