Embarrassments Starting To Pile Up On Gary Bettman’s Plate

So far 2017 has been a mixed bag of goodies for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. There are some good things he can take credit for. The NHL Centennial celebrations are going well. Edmonton has opened a stunning new arena that Bettman has vowed to reward with an All Star Game and an NHL Draft. This fall, Detroit will open another one. And it looks like Ottawa, especially after its success in the current NHL playoffs will get its new downtown arena approved. And (only a partial success, the NHL wanted more expansion teams) the NHL will get its 31st team, Las Vegas competing this fall. Internationally, bringing back the World Cup was at least a partial success and the NHL has recently announced it will play games in Europe again.

But behind the scenes there are major problems starting to pile up that must be far from being stored and filed away in the back of Bettman’s mind. Some are long term and can be postponed for a while but like the Atlanta situation a few years ago, some are coming to a head and have to be resolved sooner or later. In no particular order, here are some of the worst.

1.    Quebec City

Gary Bettman made a tour of the cities that lost their NHL franchises in the 1990s, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford, in 2010, and offered them reasonable terms for readmission to the NHL: A great fan base (No problem in all three cities), a proper NHL arena, and acceptable ownership (No mention of a $500 million entrance fee). Winnipeg was used to resolve the Atlanta mess. But now Quebec has tried to comply with Bettman’s terms and has built an arena at taxpayers’ expense that the NHL loves just as much as the Edmonton one. They expect to be paid off and Bettman was openly consorting with both the Quebec City mayor and the Quebec provincial premier while it was being built.

The problem is the potential owner, Pierre Karl Peladeau is an unacceptable owner to the NHL (I’ve written lots of articles on this blog explaining why), leaving Bettman the problem of finding an acceptable owner behind the scenes for Quebec City. So far there has been no announcement of any resolution to this problem and the longer it drags on, the more embarrassing for everyone it gets. Right now the Quebec situation has been shelved under the term “indefinite suspension”, but it has to be resolved with Quebec getting back into the NHL somehow as soon as possible.

2.    Arizona Coyotes

Bettman has fought tooth and nail to keep a team in Phoenix but it may be time to throw in the towel. Glendale has publicly declared that they do not want the Coyotes any more and has stated that an empty arena is preferable to having them play there. In response, Bettman stated that the Coyotes have no future in Glendale and need yet another new arena in the area to play in. A potential new arena in Tempe was cancelled. The Coyotes have turned to the Arizona State Legislature for assistance but it is doubtful that a financial bill will pass. There has been rumors that the Coyotes have been talking to Portland and Seattle (two much better hockey cities) about relocation. A more sensible solution would be to move the team to Quebec and then expand the NHL right away by two western cities. The NHL does not want to move any western team east because it would create more league conference imbalance but the solution I have suggested is probably the best way to resolve both the Quebec and Arizona problems.

3.    The Fate Of The New York Islanders

The Islanders play in the worst arena in the NHL with obstructed seats and bad ice, that they can’t sell out and need a new arena to survive. There is no way that the Islanders want to remain in the Barclay’s Center or return to a smaller seating Nassau Coliseum. Hartford, which is finally making an effort to get back to the NHL wants to turn the Islanders into a returned Whalers, but it would embarrassing for the NHL for a team with such a glorious history as the Islanders to disappear. The best hope for the Islanders would be constructing a new larger arena solely for them. A couple of places have been cited but nothing concrete has been committed to.

4.    South Korea

Bettman and the NHL Board recently closed the door on “unglamorous” Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics. But now has come unexpected, unbelievable news. From virtually out of nowhere, South Korea has improved its national hockey team to be good enough to be promoted to the top echelon of the World Championships. How good is this team? Next year South Korea will be competing against the very top “traditional big 7″ teams in a major international tournament for the very first time. Most likely they will just get their feet wet, lose every game, be demoted, and thanked for an historical break-through try. But if unexpectedly they do ANYTHING at that tournament that is going to be extremely embarrassing for Bettman and the NHL.

Pulling out of the Olympics in South Korea has really put Bettman and the NHL between a rock and a hard place now that South Korean hockey has improved. What if the unknown South Koreans are good enough to beat the any of the “big 7″ teams, especially Canada and the United States, are good enough after 45 years of stagnation to expand the “big 7″ at last into a “big 8″? Bettman who has brought back the World Cup after over a decade of dormancy and wants to expand and improve international hockey can hardly reject South Korea on one hand and then not be pleased at South Korea’s progress. South Korea has the potential to be a major new market not only for international hockey, but for the NHL itself. If the South Koreans are that good, Bettman will be forced to invite them to send a team to the 2020 World Cup. Pulling out of Pyeongchang so quickly has damaged the NHL’s entry into a major new hockey market.

5.    Improving International Hockey Quality

Sticking with international hockey problems for the moment, Bettman and the NHL have to finally start facing up to the problem of improving the quality of international hockey honestly. In fairness to Bettman, he is not to blame. This problem has been around long before the USSR challenged Canada in 1972. Bettman himself recognized this problem by creating hybrids “Team Europe” and “Team North America” for his revived World Cup instead of inviting any “B-Level” countries. In the 45 years since 1972, the “big 7″ have not grown into a “big 8″ or more. Specifically, improving international hockey quality should mean getting the large group of countries stuck at the “B-level” of play (There are about a dozen of them. I’ve listed them in other articles. Now South Korea has joined them.) finally over the hump so that they can compete equally with the “big 7″ teams and be able to win major international tournaments like the Olympics, the World Championships, and the World Cup.

Back in 1972, after the Canada-USSR match, there were boasts that hockey would “become the number 2 sport in the world behind soccer”. But hockey can hardly match soccer’s global reach and status if it is stuck at a narrow base of 7 countries. If Bettman wants his World Cup to start getting the status of soccer’s World Cup, the “big 7″ have to be expanded, hopefully at least to a “big 16″. Another practical reason to do this is that the NHL probably wants to expand to 40 teams within the next two decades. Each time there is expansion, the critics complain that the league gets “watered down”. But if the quality of play in the “B-level” countries were improved, there would be a huge new glut of talent to draw from. And improving the quality of play in these markets will probably increase attendance and interest in hockey bringing in more money for both international hockey and the NHL.

6.    Hamilton/Southern Ontario

Quebec is not the only Canadian problem for Bettman and the NHL. When he was hired, Bettman was probably told by the Canadian franchise owners of the NHL to preserve their monopoly in Canada. They have welcomed back Winnipeg and are willing to accept Quebec City with proper ownership. But for the new 10 franchises that the NHL wants to create in the next two decades, at least one of them HAS to be a new southern Ontario team, either in Hamilton, second Toronto, London, Kitchener, or Oshawa. Bettman must start convincing the Canadian NHL owners to accept a new southern Ontario franchise and to set an acceptable compensation package for Buffalo and Toronto like Los Angeles and New York have done in the past.

7.    Balancing The Conferences/Realignment

If the NHL reaches 32 teams, they can realign into an NFL structure; 2 Conferences with 4 Divisions that have 4 teams. This is also an ideal structure to expand the league to the next symmetrical numbers of 40 teams (5 teams to a division) and even 48 teams (6 teams to a division). But one of the problems is WHERE these teams are located. Right now Quebec wants back into the league and Hartford is making noises about returning too. This will tilt the conference imbalance still further. The recent NHL expansion was a failure. The NHL probably wanted an expansion of four teams; Quebec and three western teams, making the league a balanced 34 team league of two equal 17 team conferences, set in the NFL structure listed above and a commitment to becoming a 40 team league. Instead the NHL only got Las Vegas, Quebec is still out of the league and the NHL has not been able to realign. And no eastern team wants to be shifted west unless it was for a short, temporary period. This problem has to be resolved as soon as possible.

8.    Future NHL Expansion

If Bettman and the NHL can be placed between a rock and a hard place by South Korea, they are already in one because of NHL expansion. As noted above, the recent NHL expansion was a failure. It was probably the first time in the history of North American “big 4″ sports that there was no competition between rival cities for a new franchise and the NHL had to settle for what it could get. Of 16 potential bidders, all dropped out except for fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec City, probably because the $500 million expansion fee is considered too much for an NHL team by the business world. In contrast, there were 11 bids for an expansion team, including three from Houston alone back in 2000 when the expansion fee was $80 million.

How is the NHL going to expand if nobody wants to bid? And the league cannot solve its realignment/conference balance problems unless the league expands. One solution is to hold out, let time pass until the business world accepts a $500 million expansion fee. But how long will that be? The other loss of face solution is to refund some of the money to Bill Foley and then set a lower expansion fee that the business world will accept. Obviously the second solution is going to churn the stomachs of Bettman and the NHL governors but if they want to realign and expand quickly, it may be the only solution.

 

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16 thoughts on “Embarrassments Starting To Pile Up On Gary Bettman’s Plate

  1. You could go with a conference and division like MLB for the time being. The biggest problem being the playoff format. You just do like NYI / NYR in different diversions.

    • Thanks for commenting Josh. The problem for the NHL (and the NBA and MLB) is that the setup for your “time being” is unsatisfactory for all 3 leagues. The structure that the NFL has is simply easier to follow for the fans and makes growing the league to 40 or even 48 teams easy. I don’t know about the NBA but already there is talk in MLB about bringing back the Montreal Expos if they can resolve their stadium/ownership problems along with some other expansion team. Certainly all 3 leagues need to be at least 32 teams in the NFL structure.

      And the NHL at least wants to grow beyond that 32 team limit that the NFL is so determined to preserve. Certainly when Bettman offered terms to all 3 teams that lost their franchises in the 1990s back in 2010, that meant (excluding shifting existing franchises which of course did happen with Atlanta and has a real chance of happening again with Arizona) he envisioned a 33 team league, which unofficially means a commitment to 40 teams in an NFL structure later.

      I actually expected an expansion to 40 teams by all 4 leagues a lot earlier but the Mortgage Meltdown damped the enthusiasm for expansion. And I did not expect the arrogant NFL to hurt its own fans by stripping cities of their franchises to placate Los Angeles. But now expansion is popular again and I would expect in the immediate future that both the NHL and MLB will reach 32 teams and realign.

  2. As for NYI I tell you while I watched my team play there twice last season. It was terrible. I have never seen such bad ice at times it seemed slushy. Puck bounced and rolled. It has like a thousand obstructed view seats. And the owner of Barclay said they will do nothing. I think that they might be screwed. I think that maybe if you fix the ice and the team gets better that the attendance will come. However MSG / Barclay and The Prudential Center all are very close to each other according to google maps 30 min.

    • Thanks for commenting, Josh. I live in Europe now so I don’t get to see many games anymore so I am glad that I am getting a comment that accurately describes the Barclay’s problems. The real problem is that the New York Islanders have been treated shabbily for a long time. They have never had the superrich owner that can afford to own the team and build a proper new arena. Even during their glory years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a moment when they faced possible bankruptcy and the ownership had to be remodeled.

      The Islanders dwelt in Nassau Coliseum for most of their existence and while most of the other existing NHL franchises would see them get new arenas and move on, nothing was ever done for the Islanders despite their glorious history. The ownership/arena problems are as much to blame for the Islanders not icing many competitive teams since then. By the time the Islanders left the Nassau Coliseum, it was the second smallest arena in the NHL ahead of only Winnipeg and in company with Edmonton.

      But whereas the Oilers now have the bigger arena which will be their new home for decades, the Islanders got the Barclay Center, which was specifically built for basketball, not hockey. It also reflects the status of hockey in the United States: It is still ranked number 4 despite all the best efforts by Gary Bettman to increase its popularity. Milwaukee, which would be an ideal NHL franchise recently opened a new arena that is built the same way, with the Milwaukee Bucks in mind. That will probably hamper efforts to get a future Milwaukee NHL franchise. Americans do not value hockey as much as they do their three other sports.

      The best solution is for the Islanders to get a much larger arena built specifically for them at last. There has been talk of building one in Queens but so far I have seen no firm commitments as far as constructing it. The other alternative may be to become a returned Hartford Whalers. Hartford knows of the Islanders arena problems and has sent a letter to their owners asking them to relocate to Hartford if and when they refurbish the XL Center. The Islanders cannot remain in the Barclay Center and ice a competitive team. Quebec also knows this. A few years earlier, while the new Videotron was being built and the Islanders where still at the Nassau Coliseum, a large delegation of Quebec fans (probably more than 1000) descended on Long Island and bought up all the unsold tickets to an Islander home game and demonstrated in the stands as a way of telling the NHL and their own politicians that they wanted the Nordiques back.

      So the Long Island team is being viewed as prey by other cities who want them if they cannot get a new proper arena in the New York area. Keep your eye on the Internet, Josh to see if any news about a new Islander arena comes up.

      • I totally agree with about it shows how the public views hockey vs. the other 3 major sports. The first time I watched a game at Barclay , I thought that’s an interesting arena. 3/4 of the seats are empty (and that can happen anywhere really depending on the night of the week. So I look up the Barclay center. It has like a thousand seats that are obstructed. The owner said they didn’t care. I was also just looking and it looks like Barclay is terminating the deal so NYI will be looking for a new home next year. And like you said with Milwaukee I read the same thing and that’s not good. I would think you would design and venue for everything so it would work with anything that might come they’re way. However I understand the Milwaukee may be a good place to put an NHL team but I don’t know if the city is large enough to support 2 winter sports and 4 teams total. I think that the 500 mil is going to hurt future expansion.

  3. Thanks for commenting Josh. Your points are well taken. You are right about the Barclay’s Center. I have read on the Internet that they don’t want the Islanders much longer, which means that the Islanders are caught between a rock and a hard place. The Islanders deserve a new and better home but the question is will they remain the Islanders. As mentioned in my previous reply, both Quebec and Hartford would love to have them.

    As for Milwaukee, they would be a top contender for an NHL franchise if they resolved their ownership and arena problems. Milwaukee doesn’t have roots in Canadian hockey like Seattle and Portland have, but they have been a great center for development of hockey in the USA for decades. One of the USA’s greatest coaches ever, Bob Johnson came from there. Believe it or not, a Canadian team, Calgary gave him his start in the NHL as a coach. In my rankings, with Seattle still not resolving its arena problem and Portland not bidding, except for Hartford, Milwaukee would be the best American city to put an NHL franchise. If they can sell out basketball, they would have no problem selling out hockey. Like Quebec, Hamilton and Hartford, an NHL team in Milwaukee would be a sure money maker with the right owner and arena. The only surprise to me is why they have not joined the NHL sooner.

    • Here is what I’m talking about the smallest city with 4 teams is Dever at 2.5 mill. Milwaukee has 533,000 I don’t think they can support a fourth team because of city size. I agree that it has the history is American hockey but the money of such a small city I don’t know if it could support it with 3 winter sports to boot. Now that said we were talking about cities with a second team. A team in Milwaukee could serve as you 2nd Chicago team as they are quite close and there have been times when Wrigley was not ready to play they talked about having the cubs play there. So it may work they are only 1.5 hours away.

  4. Thanks for commenting Josh. There is one problem with your figures. You are confusing the “municipal area” of Milwaukee with its metropolitan area. That is easy to do because sometimes figures get interchanged and nobody knows the real population of a city. For example, municipal New York City is approximately 8 million people but the total metropolitan area is 19 million. Cities like Miami, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Cleveland, etc. are officially in the 300,000 – 400, 000 range but their metropolitan populations are several million. In Milwaukee’s case, you have its municipal figure but metropolitan Milwaukee is approximately 1.5 million. In Toronto where I came from, the population within the city boundaries is 2.5 million but the population of Toronto and its surrounding area is closer to 6 million.

    So Milwaukee is a big enough market to support an NHL team and do it well. When you calculate a city’s potential market, you have to use its metropolitan figures, not the population within the city’s traditional municipal boundaries, which were set in many cases for American cities, in the 19th Century. Metropolitan Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, the San Francisco bay area, and perhaps Philadelphia, Detroit, and Boston all have large suburban areas of several million people so that their markets could be considered big enough to support two NHL franchises like New York and Los Angeles. An expansion to Mexico City could probably support more than one franchise.

    Metropolitan Milwaukee would be a fine addition to the NHL. You probably would not have any problems selling tickets there and they could draw from the rest of the state like the Packers do in the NFL. Metropolitan Seattle and Portland would also be great markets in the United States for the NHL to get into.

    • You know that I knew that and didn’t even think about it. I just looked up population. But I live around St Louis and its the same way. St. Louis City 317k St. Louis Metro 2.8 Mil. My thought as for cities with multiples of the same league you have one. Wait and then have another. Like LA and Anaheim in hockey you wait till there is enough. As well as all the others and the ones you have mentioned. (unlike what they just did in the NFL in LA) But as for a sport in general it maybe better to push into new markets and spread the sport. As opposed to splitting a current market. Especially when we are talking about American cities. Otherwise the sport doesn’t add new fans. Your just adding marginally more money to the owners. But those people already are fan of the game. You have to push into places like Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake , San Antonio, El Paso. Des Moines. Now in Canada you can put a team in a city that has an arena at can hold 18k people and has 100k and I think your good.

  5. With Canada you can away with placing an NHL franchise almost anywhere, Josh, and it will probably be a sure money maker as long as the market is big enough and there is a proper arena built. The problem with Canada is that there are not very many large cities. Right now, (assuming that there is an arena and a suitable owner) you could probably put a team into Quebec, Hamilton, and second Montreal. In the long term there is the possibility of a third southern Ontario team and a regional, provincial Saskatchewan team. That’s still not very many.

    In the United States, there are probably 5 markets as good as a Canadian one, plus 6-8 others that have a good chance of being successful if things go well. Bettman’s strategy (done mainly to get a better American television contract) has been to choose new markets, but the cities he has chosen (with the exception of a returned Minnesota and possibly Anaheim) have had little contact with hockey which makes them highly questionable as money makers. The worst embarrassment has been the shift of Atlanta to Winnipeg, and Arizona threatens to go the same way. So when choosing a new market in the United States, I at least would be very picky about where to place a new team. I would probably go with the tried and the true like Seattle, Hartford, etc. before pushing into new territory like Des Moines, San Antonio, El Paso, etc.

    • I totally agree. I was just using them as ideas. Also that’s why Seattle, Portland , Milwaukee and maybe Kansas City. Might be better fits. However they would still grow the game as there are no NHL teams in those markets. Several of those cities have AHL or ECHL teams. As for Canada acourding to NHL they list reigina Saskatoon Halifax Québec as well as several others. Places like SF/Oakland are likely far enough from San Jose for a team, but maybe not.

  6. Good points here Josh. I’ll go over them one at a time. I totally agree with your four American cities. The first three are sure winners, and Kansas City is a city I would take a chance on. Quebec is a sure winner. Saskatoon and Regina are both in the province of Saskatchewan and are up and coming cities so they will be long term and only one will be selected as a provincial, regional team. Most people think it will the larger city Saskatoon, the provincial capital. Regina does have the CFL team, the Roughriders and just opened a new stadium for them.

    I love Halifax but realistically it is a romantic choice. The Maritimes are the poorest region in Canada and their cities grow slowly so it will be a long time before they get a team. I would place any Maritime city in the very long term.

    Oakland originally had a team. They were one of the original 6 expansion teams back in 1967. Sometimes they were known as the Oakland Seals or the California Golden Seals. At one time they were owned by Charles O Finley who also owned the Oakland As when they won 3 World Series in a row. So the Seals would wear the same color uniform as the As did in baseball. Finley also gave the Beatles their biggest paycheck during their American tour in 1964, $150,000 to play Kansas City on their day off. Alas the Seals did not survive and were moved to Cleveland where they had horrible attendance and were folded after two years and merged into the Minnesota North Stars.

    San Francisco is currently building a new arena. You can read about it on the Internet. But it is being aimed for an NBA team, perhaps shifting the Golden State Warriors there. So far I haven’t heard anything about an NHL team coming as well.

    • Being from the states I look at different parts of Canada like places to move and I found the same thing as far as the Maritime area goes no jobs and such but they do have the Famous Money Pit. I don’t know areas of Canada so I do apologize as I don’t know where Regina or Saskatoon are exactly are on a map. I promise I an not the moron American who can’t find Washington,DC or the state I live in. The place that GSW play tells how many it will fit for ice hockey(17500). So maybe they thought of that idea. Where in Europe are you exactly? I only know as you said that earlier when you wrote about the Barclay center. K.C. I think would take to the NHL but I would take time. and we know that Columbus, Arizona, and Florida. Have all had that. They really don’t want these teams to fold or move it looks bad for the league in general.

  7. Well Josh, I’ll give you a few inside things about Canada. And no, you’re not the worst American I’ve heard. In the 1980’s I went on a vacation to Ocean Grove, New Jersey (right beside Bruce Springsteen’s home town of Asbury Park) and I overheard a woman on the telephone asking if Canada actually had electricity. (In fact it was Canada that was responsible for the 1965 blackout that put New York City and most of the northeastern United States into total darkness). And there is the old joke that Canadians tell of Americans coming to Toronto during the summer months with their overcoats, skis, and winter boots when the temperature is usually between 70 and 90.

    One problem that promotes ignorance is the difference in television media. Most Canadians live along the American border and have always been able to get all 4 major American television networks for free. But unless you live along the Canadian border in cities like Buffalo, Detroit, etc., Americans cannot get Canadian television. Hence Canadians can always see Americans, but most Americans cannot see Canadians. It’s mostly a one way street.

    One way you can tell about who is prospering in Canada is which provinces get federal money. Since 1867 when Canada became a country, the Federal Government collects most of the taxes and then redistributes the money from the haves to the havenots. The Maritimes and Quebec have seldom been provinces with wealth. Ontario was once the most prosperous province in Canada but because of corruption in recent years, it is now a havenot province. So most the wealth currently is in the western provinces, particularly Alberta which has large oil sales.

    St. Louis is in the central time zone, so Regina and Saskatoon, both located in the province of Saskatchewan are one time zone to the west, not too far from you (Mountain time).. One interesting thing to note about Saskatchewan is that its economy is based on farming and because of that, it is the only place in North America that is on permanent daylight savings time.

    I live in Eastern Europe now so I am about 9 hours ahead of you. I seldom can watch hockey games any more so I have to choose the topics I write about carefully. If I woke up early in the morning and had Internet television, I would probably be able to catch the last part of a west coast game.

    Florida, Columbus and Arizona have bad NHL histories. Florida has been the best of the bunch, making it to the Stanley Cup Final once when they lost to Colorado. But since then, they seldom make the playoffs. Arizona has only iced a contending team once. Columbus has made the playoffs only 3 times in its history and has yet to win a playoff round. These records probably account for why these franchises get bad attendance and are in financial trouble.

    • I knew kinda where they were many many NHL have come from that region. If they are mountain with daylight savings they could easily if in Central or West. I actually met a man not 2 weeks ago that was from Canada. He was surprised when he said he was 3 hours from Niagara Falls, 3 hours from Detroit 3 hours from Toronto. And I replied like in the Hamilton area. His response was you’ve been there before. I said no I know they really want a NHL team though. Now my boss was golfing in B.C. last week and has said it was like 35 degrees and I said Celsius making a joke knowing that it would be like 110 f if it had. I did have a teacher once that said they heard it was going to be 30 and they packed jackets. Your a teacher you ought you understand they use a system based on water. And I totally agree I think you could put a team together in Mexico City if they were the best team in the league it might work. But unless much like Nashville this year they will bandwagon. I remember Florida I remember thinking they are new they’ll have more chances. I hope Colorado wins. Of course I’m sure that the fans in Quebec where not as happy.

      • Vancouver doesn’t usually get that hot. That might be 35 degrees F. Mexico City isn’t into hockey and even baseball has some misgivings about putting a team there because of the corruption even though Mexico City is the biggest city in North America.
        You are right, Quebec will not be happy until they get their team back.

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