Yeah, I'm going to get in trouble for saying it, but.....
If I was allowed to punch one person alive in the face and not get into trouble, that one person would be NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
I'm not the biggest Winnipeg Jets fan, but I appreciate what the city of Winnipeg has meant to the sport of hockey. Back in 1972, the Winnipeg Jets were one of the charter members of the World Hockey Association. Between 1972 and 1979, the Winnipeg Jets won 3 Avco Cups as the champions of the WHA. For those 7 years, the Jets were a pillar of stability in an unstable league until, in 1979, the Jets joined the NHL when the WHA folded. Technically, the NHL granted expansion status to four WHA teams, Edmonton, Hartford, Quebec City and Winnipeg. Once the Jets joined the NHL, it was all downhill from there....
The "expansion" Jets didn't win a playoff series until the 84-85 season. Despite local support, the 90's were hard on the Jets' bottom line, not so much because of what was going on on the ice, but because of the financial condition of the Canadian Dollar. Instead of helping the Jets plight, Bettman made token gestures, then allowed the team to move to Phoenix in 1996. With the heart ripped out of Winnipeg, the new Coyotes had a hard time getting traction in the American Southwest with losing season after losing season at the beginning of the 00's. By the end of the decade, not even Coach Gretzky could save the team and the Phoenix Coyotes would be bankrupt and taken over by the league.
Despite having never played for a Stanley Cup, the franchise garnered serious attention by a group of investors from Winnipeg. Returning to Winnipeg only seemed like a logical decision, because part of Winnipeg's problems in the 90's stemmed from national currency issues which were corrected by 2010. Inexplicably, Gary Bettman blocked the sale, arguing the importance of hockey in the American desert. Do you know how much bigger Phoenix is than Winnipeg? The team changed its name to the Arizona Coyotes and haven't made the playoffs since the 2011-2012 season while being second last in attendance the past 3 years.
The investors from Winnipeg were not deterred by Bettman's poor decisions and considered buying the Nashville Predators, but eventually True North pried the Atlanta Thrashers out of Bettman's hands....
The Atlanta Thrashers had only made the playoffs once in its short history and was rumored to be on the move to a number of Canadian cities. The problem is that Gary Bettman was cool with America poaching Canadian teams, not so happy with things going in the opposite direction. Once the Thrashers finally became the Winnipeg Jets 2.0 in 2011, the team wouldn't win a playoff series until the year 2018.
Let me sum up, again:
Winnipeg Jets: 0 Stanley Cup Finals Appearances.
Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes: 0 Stanly Cup Finals Appearances.
Atlanta Thrashes: 0 Stanley Cup Finals Appearances.
Winnipeg Jets 2.0: 0 Stanley Cup Finals Appearances.
Today, the Las Vegas Golden Knights beat the Winnipeg Jets (2.0) to go to their first Stanley Cup Finals.
Let's review the Golden Knights history.
2017 Expansion team. As of this week, 1 Stanley Cup Finals Appearance.
You can call the Golden Knights story a Cinderella Story of epic proportions or you can ask yourself "how did this happen?" I would fall into the second camp. It is ironic that Las Vegas knocked out Winnipeg, because it is the perfect embodiment of how Bettman has approached his leadership position. Newly-minted Vegas fans get the prize, long-suffering Winnipeg fans get the shaft.
You could argue that Bettman doesn't control who wins or loses and that the management of the Golden Knights deserves huge credit for their success and you'd be right on both counts, but what I'm saying is, is that the league has tilted the table in favor of American franchises since Bettman took over in 1993 and this year's Western Conference Championship is the culmination of a quarter of a century of his philosophy of running the National Hockey League.
Don't argue with me citing anomalies, no other major sport has had an expansion team go to the finals in its first year, at least in the past 100 years. It's not a coincidence that it's an American Team with no hockey history. Why am I so vehement about shoring up the core of hockey in Canada? Because when I think of the cradle of hockey, I think about Manitoba, Saskatoon, and Ontario. I think about the romantic version of backyard rinks in cities like Viking, Alberta. The heartland of Canada should be the foundation of the NHL, not exploited and forgotten by the NHL.
Today about half of the NHL players are Canadian. When Gary Bettman scammed his way into being in charge, that percentage was around 65%.
When Gary Bettman took office in 1993, 8 of the 24 teams were Canadian, easy math, a full third of the league. The same exact ratio as 1942, the first year of the "Original Six." This year 7 of 31 teams are Canadian teams, under a quarter of the league. Since Bettman became the Commissioner, every Canadian team, except for the Maple Leafs, Canadiens, and Canucks, have had the threat of relocation hung over their heads in the past 25 years. Gary Bettman pleads ignorance (insert joke here) as to why he is unpopular in Canada. He claims that the salary cap saved hockey in Canada. My counter argument would be if you can't make hockey work in Canada, it is you that is the problem and not the country.....
Why do I keep beating up on poor Gary Bettman? You keep reading corporate spin-meisters claiming that Bettman is just a cuddly old Grandpa that has guided the NHL to unparalleled success. Instead of arguing the point, let's go oversees for a minute for some perspective.
Growing up, I heard rumors of the Soviet Championship League. Its players were so good they were like robots. By the time Viacheslav Fetisov joined the Detroit Red Wings, you knew for a fact that Russia's best players were as good as America's and Canada's top players. The problem with Russia was, well, Russia. Fetisov joined the Red Wings the same year as the fall of the Berlin Wall. 3 years later, a renamed Soviet Championship League would bite the dust. Every Champion in the History of the SCL was from the city of Moscow. The International Hockey League lasted about 5 years and, it too, went the way of the dinosaurs. The IHL was replaced by the Russian Superleague, which itself was replaced by the Kontinental Hockey League. As hockey was unstable in post-Soviet Russia, its best players flocked to the NHL for big paydays.
Despite only being founded in 2007, the KHL is slowly chipping away at the NHL in popularity and has succeeded in stemming the tide of players from going overseas. Current Champion Ak Bars Kazan can trace its roots to the lower levels of Soviet Hockey in the 1950's. Despite expansion, the KHL still has 3 teams in Downtown Moscow and another in the suburbs. The 2007 version of the KHL opened with 24 teams, 21 of which were Russian. Today 21 of 27 teams are Russian. The difference being, other countries are not stealing Russian teams.
HC Donbass, for example, was a Ukranian Hockey team that played in the KHL from 2012-2014. The reason they're not in the KHL has to do with ongoing strife between Russia and Ukraine. International Relations. The dynamics are different in Russia with its neighbors, they just are. Old World Politics. For a country mired in the Old World, somehow the same year the NHL played 2 exhibition games in China, the KHL placed an expansion team in China----
Wait, wait wait, I just had an idea that cements my point. Since Gary Bettman is so good for hockey, let's go ahead and fire Dmitry Chernyshenko as the head of the KHL and replace him with good old Betts. Going by history, let's speculate on how Bettman would run the KHL. His first order of business would be to leverage cities in the Eastern Conference to build larger stadiums. Places like Magnitogorsk only have home capacities the size of an American Division I college hockey team. Those stadiums are going to have to be replaced at the government's expense. If you don't like it, sorry, my hands are tied and I'm going to allow the owners to go ahead and explore moving to larger, non-traditional hockey cities in Europe, like Rome, Paris, or London. Despite its historical presence in Russia, we're going to allow the owners of Metallurg Magnitogorsk to enter into talks with the state-of-the-art O2 Arena in Great Britain.
I can see a pompous Gary Bettman at the podium now, pontificating "in order to compete with the NHL, moving the game from the Russian Wilderness to the population centers of Europe is ultimately what will save Russian Hockey."
And the article is over because Gary Bettman would be dead within one week of that press conference.
I'm not threatening anyone. Again, we would be dealing with the KHL. In a recent article by Vice Sports, they say that the KHL suffers from the shadows of the Mafia-State.
You cross the Mafia-State in general and....
See: Alexander Litvinenko.
See: Sergei Skripal
See: Yulia Skripal
See: Alexander Perepilichny
See: Viktor Yushchenko
I guess what I'm trying to say is that Gary Bettman is corrupted by money, whereas in the KHL the corruption is....different.