FOOLISH DECISION

Fred Faour: Yet another reason why Gary Bettman is the worst commissioner in sports

The U.S. men's hockey does not include NHL players. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Are you watching the men’s hockey at the Olympics? Nope, me either. It’s a shame, because every four years I watch the Olympics primarily for the hockey. Growing up, it was the best college kids against the world. More recently it has been the best in the NHL.

This year, it is a collection of overseas players who are mostly marginal former NHLers and a couple college kids. There is no charm of the young against the established, and no thrill of seeing our best against their best.

One man is to blame for killing the Olympics.

The NHL’s Gary Bettman is the worst commissioner in the four major North American sports, and that is saying a lot in a world where Roger Goodell is alive and breathing.

The other leagues

The NBA might have the best. The league replaced the smarmy, self-promoting David Stern with Adam Silver, who handled the Donald Sterling fiasco with aplomb and has since been extremely progressive, even touting the benefits of legalized gambling.

Baseball’s Rob Manfred could not help but be an upgrade over Bud Selig, and at least talks a good game.

Goodell is an unabashed dictator whose heavy-handed handling of small controversies has turned them into big ones that have damaged the fabric of the league.

And Bettman is far worse.

He presided over an entire lost season of NHL hockey. He steadfastly and arrogantly refused to allow the Coyotes to move to Hamilton, Ontario, denying Canada -- the hockey hotbed of the world -- another team which would have had a deep pocketed owner. Meanwhile the Coyotes still do not have a home.

When Bettman reluctantly acquiesced to Atlanta moving to Winnipeg... Well, all that team has done is sell out every night since relocating and put itself in place for a serious playoff run this season.

He still steadfastly refuses to allow struggling teams to move, even with vibrant potential markets in Seattle and Houston. Bettman once told me at a meeting of sports editors that he did not view Houston as a viable market because “we already have Dallas.” Anyone who lives in Texas knows what an ignorant statement that is. But that’s another rant for another time.

And yet for all his flaws, Bettman outdid himself by not allowing NHL players to go to South Korea for the Olympics.

The players wanted to go. The fans wanted to see it. NBC -- the NHL’s TV partner -- certainly wanted it, because of the money they spent on the Olympics. But Bettman -- hiding behind what he said was the owners decision -- refused to send his players.

The excuses

We have to interrupt our season for two weeks. Yet each team has a five-day break and the All-Star break. Combine those and what have you missed?

The players might get hurt. A risk? Sure. Now ask Jack Eichel and Nathan MacKinnon -- who were injured recently -- if where they got hurt matters. In fact, the Olympics -- being on bigger ice -- creates much less risk of injury.

We don’t want to disrupt our season. Ratings dip during the Olympics anyway. The casual fans who would be into the NHL are watching Olympics.

This is how the Olympics used to be. No, the Olympics used to be college kids and juniors against Soviet pros. We already have a similar tournament minus the Soviets -- it is called the World Juniors. Why not reprise that here? If you aren’t going to send the NHL, send the kids. This is a collection of has beens, mediocre players and a few college kids mixed in. That's not to say they are not good people who are enjoying the Olympic experience, but the reality is they should not be there. 

Ratings are best when the U.S. is good. This team is not. There is nothing compelling. After the US had a terrible performance in the NHL’s World Cup, this group is likely to also miss out on a medal. And not giving the US a fighting chance is shortsighted. Potential new fans are lost. The Olympics are a once every four year opportunity, where you can bring new eyes to the TV sets that might go on and become NHL fans. Not to mention the lost revenue for bars that pack the house when the US and Canada play. It’s not just me; no one cares. Maybe that will change in the medal round if the US somehow makes a run, but it is unlikely.  

Failure on two fronts

Bettman’s decision damaged both the Olympics and the NHL. A team of NHL Americans probably would not beat Canada, but they would have had a shot. Instead, NBC tries to force feed mediocre athletes in all sports who have no shot at winning on us and sell them as legit. They would not have to do that with a US team that would be loaded with young talent.

And viewers who never watch the NHL would get to see exciting young players like Auston Matthews, Eichel, Zach Werenski, and Johnny Gaudreau team up with veteran superstars like Patrick Kane…Who knows if they are the same players in four years? It’s really just silly. The NHL is missing out.

Instead, no one is interested in Olympic hockey. And the boost the NHL could have gotten is lost, because Bettman is a short-sighted idiot. It’s time the NHL realized it and found an Adam Silver of hockey, someone who will move the sport forward, not hold it back.

Somehow, Bettman endures. And hockey continues to suffer for it.




 

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