Not everything Gary Bettman has done has been a colossal failure. But the majority of it has.
And he is going to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame for “building the game”; he has done anything but.
Bettman’s tenure began on February 1, 1993, and it didn’t take long for the NHL to experience its first major issue during the Bettman Era of NHL hockey.
The 1994-95 season was locked out for a part of the season, with each team playing only 48 games. This came during an incline in American popularity for hockey in the mid-90s.
After a full season lock-out of the 2004-05 season and a second partial lockout in the 2012-13 season, he is being elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
It is not just the fact that three lockouts in less than three decades have tarnished the reputation of Gary Bettman; it is the fact that he has awarded teams to cities when others clearly wanted them more. He also has never given up on teams in non-hockey markets that don’t attract any local support; when fans wanted a new franchise in Winnipeg, Quebec City, and Seattle, he gave us Vegas, Atlanta, and a suburb that is 40 minutes away from Miami. This is all without mentioning Glendale, Arizona and Raleigh, North Carolina; both were franchises who had moved from up north, but ever since their moves in the 1990s, Bettman has pushed to keep them in their respective cities. A franchise has already moved back to Winnipeg, and Seattle is currently in the phase of creating a franchise.
Now, it is understandable from a few perspectives upon why Bettman allowed some of these relocations and expansions to happen; for example, the Canadian dollar is currently worth 23% less than the American dollar. Also, attempting to expand to the southern United States to attract more fans to the NHL is not a bad strategy. But it has not worked.
This past season alone, Carolina finished worst, Arizona finished third worst, and Florida finished fourth worst in the NHL in attendance capacity percentage. Even in seasons after huge success, attendance was still low compared to the rest of the league; Carolina finished 18th in attendance percentage in 2006-07, the year after their championship run. The Phoenix Coyotes finished second to worst in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. To make matters even worse, the Coyotes in 2015 reported a loss of just under $35 million.
The only real positive about having a team in Arizona is that Auston Matthews grew up playing hockey there. However, he was drafted to Toronto, a city that never has trouble selling tickets and is an established hockey market.
One more note I will add; although more teams (usually) means more opportunities for revenue, the overall product across the league has been diluted severely. The talent level in the league is difficult to justify adding more teams.
There are very few positives that can be found in Bettman’s tenure as NHL commissioner. This begs every NHL fan to ask the same question; why is Gary Bettman being elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame?