On Feb. 1, 1993, the NHL made a significant change in the way they ran their league in hiring their first commissioner, Gary Bettman. The National Hockey League has never been the same. While not everything that Bettman has done to the league is all good, nor all bad, he will be remembered for a handful of key decisions that he has made over the past eight years.
Whatever Gary Bettman does for the rest of his career in the NHL, he will always be remembered as the commissioner that presided over the first ever North American league to lockout their players for an entire season. The 2004-05 season will go down in the record books as a season that never happened. The NHL and NHLPA could not come to terms over many things, the largest of them all being the salary cap that the league and its owners wanted. After the season was deemed lost, the NHLPA imploded in on itself and the league was able to obtain many of the things that they were looking for in concessions including salary rollbacks, a hard salary cap based on league revenues and a player escrow account, among other things.
While Bettman will be most remembered for the lockout, what he has done to a possible fault was expand the game across the United States, especially in the South. In Bettman's 18 years, the league has expanded from 26 to 30 teams and has seen four other teams relocate. Most of those teams are located below the Mason-Dixon Line: Carolina, Nashville, Dallas, Phoenix and Atlanta.
While some of those franchises are still trying to establish a foothold in their prospective markets, many others are thriving. The Dallas Stars moved from Minnesota in 1993 and have continually built a fanbase that could rival some teams in the Northern markets. According to Forbes, the Stars are the eighth most valuable franchise in the league. Other franchises have not made their mark though, the most visible being the Phoenix Coyotes. The Coyotes were embroiled in a bitter bankruptcy proceeding that almost saw the franchise moving back to Canada.
Embracing The Fans
One of the few bright spots the league has grown on is embracing the fan aspect of the game. The league almost had to do this, as they are so dependent on their fans for their revenue. The league has been one of the first to embrace Twitter and Facebook as a way to connect with their fans and almost make them apart of the league. The league has tried new things as well, including a blog during the playoffs that explained all of the decisions made in the War Room in Toronto and having the Commissioner Twitter and host his own weekly radio show.
The NHL is still trying to build back the fans and the goodwill they lost four years ago and the league will have to face another Collective Bargaining Agreement in the next few years. While Commissioner Bettman has been a driving force to why the league is the way it now, where the league goes in the next decade may be his defining legacy.