Breaking down Gary Bettman’s influence among NHL owners

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If you’re hoping that the latest lockout brings an end to Gary Bettman’s run as NHL commissioner, a detailed New York Times piece on his increasing influence won’t inspire confidence.

The piece points back to an interview with Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider, who illustrated how powerful Bettman has become.

“In the old days, basically the owners ran the league and almost ran it into the ground,” Snider said. “Now it’s Bettman’s league. He’s a great commissioner. Basically he’s the force behind everything we do.”

A common defense of Bettman is that he’s often a figurehead merely representing the owners’ collective interest, yet this portrait seems to muddy that perception.

Jeff Z. Klein provides an abbreviated timeline for his rise in power in the eyes of NHL owners.

  • The 1994-95 lockout wasn’t considered a success, yet it taught him to adapt. Bettman altered owner voting rules so that he could only be overruled by a three-quarters majority and also gave himself power to fine an organization for divulging information.
  • Ken Dryden described fiscal discussions with Bettman as visiting the “principal’s office.”
  • The NHL counter-sued the New York Rangers for seeking a site independent of the NHL universe in 2008. The league won soundly enough that Rangers owner James Dolan has been noticeably quiet during proceedings, according to Klein.
  • Finally, it appears that the owners are behind him completely – just like they were during the last lockout.

In other words, Bettman’s as empowered as ever among the league’s owners.

Author Jonathon Gatehouse even provides this account, which might be chilling for Bettman’s greatest detractors:

“If he wins this round, I think he’s emperor for life.”