NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, is not exactly the most popular person in the history of the National Hockey League, and certainly not in Canada.
Most hockey fans, based on false information, blame him for the departure of both the Quebec Nordiques,as well as the Winnipeg Jets. The truth of the matter, is that no Canadian citizens or corporations, made offers to purchase either team from their respective Canadian owners at the time ( Marcel Aubut-Quebec, Ben Haskin-Winnipeg ). The Canadian dollar was very weak in contrast to the American dollar at the time, and player salaries were being paid in U.S. funds. Obviously, team revenues from tickets were in Canadian dollars as well, so it is easy to see how small market Canadian franchises might get into financial difficulties, and especially in the smaller cities, that don’t have access to major corporate support, as would have been the case at that time, in the mid nineteen-nineties. The net result, was the Jets moving to Phoenix,and the Nordiques relocating to Denver. Blaming those scenarios on Bettman, was absolute ignorance, and yet there are still some who think like that, and don’t want to acknowledge the true facts, as stated above.
The Commissioner also worked hard to keep other troubled franchises in their original cities, including Ottawa, and Buffalo.
It was Bettman and Harley Hotchkiss, former chairman of the Board Of Governors of the NHL, (1995-2007) and part owner of the Calgary Flames, who formulated the “Canadian Assistance Plan”, in which money was given by American NHL team owners, to the struggling Canadian franchises at that time, like Edmonton and Calgary. Hotchkiss has acknowledged in an interview I conducted with him on The Fan 590 several years ago, that without this supplemental funding, both teams would have gone out of business.
As for adding additional Canadian teams to the NHL, it is the board of governors who ultimately decide on that. It seems that Winnipeg is destined to regain a franchise at some point in time. The NHL owners would not have a problem with that move, because of the city’s history in the league, and that franchise would not jeopardize the well being of any other existing team, as would be the case if a team was to be relocated to Hamilton, Ontario, a desired location for many fans, media, and some entrepreneurs. A new or transplanted franchise there,would certainly bring about the demise of the Buffalo Sabres, who rely quite heavily on Canadian fans for their consumer base. It is highly unlikely, that the Toronto Maple Leafs would ever approve of a team being located there, without some major financial compensation. A possible compromise on that issue,which would be acceptable to the league’s board of governors, and would have to be worked out with the Maple Leafs, would be a second team in Toronto. The NHL’s American based owners, feel that they can draw fans in their arenas, with a team that has the name “Toronto”, as opposed to Hamilton, which would be unfamiliar to most American hockey fans, who don’t seem to turn out as much for games against Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver, as they do for Toronto and Montreal.
Gary Bettman took a lot of criticism from both fans and media, regarding the lockout, which terminated the 2004-05 season, before it got started. The labor dispute ended in a crushing defeat of the NHL Players Association, however, the settlement created a hard salary cap, which has risen every year since, leading to greater spending on contracts. There has never been more parity in the National Hockey League, in terms of the standings in both conferences, as there was this season. This is a direct result of the salary cap.
Some fans and media, like to frequently blame Bettman for all that is wrong with the National Hockey League, but there is almost no objectivity in analyzing his work, and acknowledging the areas where he has helped the league, it’s teams, and those who follow the NHL.