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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Houston couldn't keep up

Astros fall to Blue Jays as Toronto gets homer-happy

Houston's bats couldn't keep up with Toronto's Saturday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With an offensive clinic in the opener on Friday night, which helped them handily defeat the Blue Jays, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park Saturday with a chance to secure another series. Toronto had other plans, though, reversing roles with Houston by getting big home runs to even the series.

Final Score: Blue Jays 8, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 17-16, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Steven Matz (5-2)

Losing Pitcher: Cristian Javier (3-1)

Toronto flips the script and turns on their offense against Javier

Toronto flipped the script from the night before early in this middle game of the series, dealing damage to Cristian Javier, who so far in 2021 had been able to limit his amount of earned runs. After retiring the first four batters he faced, a one-out walk in the top of the second set up the Blue Jays' first hit of the night, a two-run home run by Cavan Biggio, giving them a 2-0 lead over Houston.

After a leadoff home run made it a 3-0 score, Javier would deal with the fallout of more walks in the top of the third, issuing two to set up a two-out two-RBI double to give the Jays a commanding 5-0 advantage. Javier would battle back and complete five full innings, getting one out into the sixth before a walk would prompt Dusty Baker to make the call to the bullpen. His final line: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 8 K, 2 HR, 91 P.

Alvarez keeps mashing as Houston tries to claw back into it

Javier would exit with at least some runs on the board in support of him, with Yordan Alvarez hitting a two-run opposite-field homer in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to three runs. Alvarez accounted for another run in the next inning, coming through with an RBI-single to make it 5-3, which is where the game stood as Andre Scrubb would take over in the top of the sixth.

Scrubb finished that inning for Javier and returned for a 1-2-3 seventh to keep it a two-run game. Bryan Abreu was the next reliever, and he, too, was able to retire the Blue Jays in order in the top of the eighth. The Astros continued to chip away at Toronto's lead, getting another run in the bottom of the inning on an RBI by Yuli Gurriel to make it 5-4 heading to the ninth.

Toronto evens the series

Brooks Raley entered to try and keep it a one-run game with a clean inning, but instead, two runners would reach on a walk and error before Joe Smith would enter to try and strand them. Instead, a two-out home run put the game back out of reach at 8-4, with Houston coming up empty in the bottom of the inning, setting up a rubber match in the finale.

Up Next: This series's third and final game will be an afternoon start of 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Zack Greinke (2-1, 3.76 ERA) will try to add more wins to his record for Houston, while Nate Pearson will be making his 2021 debut for Toronto.

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