Column: Go Home Gary
I have just about had it with Gary Bettman and the NHL, specifically Gary Bettman.As hockey fans are now sitting through the third work stoppage under his regime, it is time to take a long, hard look at what Bettman has done for the NHL and the fans that are finding it increasingly hard to stay interested.First; Let us look at a few of the good things that Gary has done for the league and more specifically for me, the fan.1. The Winter Classic.Old School hockey played on an outdoor rink.Or as old school as the rules would allow, anyway.In 2003, the Heritage Classic, the precursor to the Winter Classic, was played in Edmonton as the Oilers hosted the Canadiens in a game where the conditions could be best described as "bone chilling cold."The game featured new "throwback jerseys," which I will admit, I marked out for and promptly bought a Maurice Richard version of the Habs’ jersey on display that night.These new jerseys, marketed under the “NHL Vintage” campaign, created a whole new level of interest in NHL apparel, both new and old, as well as led to teams adjusting their in-game uniforms, displaying uni's of days gone past to the delight of the fans.2. Eliminating the two-line pass, or the red line.While the red line did not disappear from the ice surface, part of it's functionality did after the 2004-2005 lockout.Before the lockout, if a puck was passed across two lines, it was deemed off-sides and play was stopped.Starting in 2005, in an effort to boost scoring, players were once allowed to go for the long stretch pass, creating a little more excitement to a game that had been filled with clutch-and-grab play that had slowed down the action for over a decade.Oddly enough, the number of 50 goal scorers has dropped since 2005, but let's not harp on that right now.3. NHL players competing in the Olympics.The impact of having the NHL showcase their top talent on a world stage has been fantastic.The 2010 games, with Canada and the USA meeting in the final, in Canada, has been the one of the two greatest ratings grabs in recent hockey history.The other ironically also happened in Vancouver when the Bruins won the 2011 Stanley Cup over the Canucks behind the brilliant play of the now controversial American goaltender Tim Thomas.4. The Canadiens win the Stanley Cup. The Habs won the Cup just months after Gary took office in 1993, with John LeClair scoring back-to-back OT game winners in the final.Bettman had nothing to do with this, but as a Canadiens fan, this is the last time they won the Cup, and I may as well mention it for posterity.There, three good things (and one selfish, unrelated one) that has helped the game since Bettman was in charge.I am not going to dive deeper into salaries, ratings, TV deals, etc... because this is about what Bettman has done to me as a fan of the game, not what has happened to the players.Here are my top five things that Gary and the league have done away with, or screwed up since he took power. 1. Logo Design.The old NHL logo in black and orange with the letters cascading down from left to right was a classic.The NBA, NFL and MLB all feature red, white and blue logos, but the NHL was different.Now the logo is in silver and black and the letters go upwards from left to right.It reminds me of the French Canadian version with LNH also going from up from left to right.Pathetic.I loved the all-star jersey's of the early 1990's, with Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky leading their respective conferences in battle with the big orange "C" on their chest.Now the all-star jerseys have run through the gauntlet of colors, including hideous turquoise and purple, that represent... uh... well, I do not know of any teams that wear purple, but maybe the kids would think that purple is hip.Kids, look these old jersey's up, they were fantastic, and nearly impossible to find on ebay, because, in my opinion, if you have one, you are not going to give it up.And who were the Great One and the Magnificent One representing in the All-Star Game? Ah, that leads me to point number two.2. Renaming the conferences and the divisions.Thanks for wiping out decades worth of history Gary.Do you really think that the average NHL fan is too stupid to remember division names, so you rename them by geographical location?For you younger fans, there used to be two divisions within each conference.The Prince of Wales Conference (Wales for short) was in the east, and it featured the Adams Division and the Patrick Division.The Clarence Campbell Conference (Campbell for short) was in the west and it featured the Norris Division and the Smythe Division.These names represented important historical figures from the game, and again, the NHL had something different from the other three major sports leagues.Now the league is just another flock of sheep, following the herd and doing the exact same thing as everybody else.You mean to tell me that with expansion we could not have added another two names from the rich history of the game to name these conferences? They still could have been aligned by location, but I would rather play in the Howe Division instead of the Atlantic.3. Three work stoppages.Yes, yes, I know Gary works for the owners, but how many work stoppages can he allow to occur under his leadership before he is given "Das Boot?"Again, I understand that it is way more complex than the average fan understands, as most see millionaires fighting with billionaires, not revenue sharing, TV money distribution, salary caps, introductory salaries and the likes.But let's get real.Losing half a season is awful.Losing an entire season nearly put the NHL on it's deathbed.Luckily the NHL was able to rebound, with interest peaking during the Bruins' run to the Cup in 2011.Speaking of ratings...4. The loss of a TV deal on ESPN.They do not call ESPN the "World Wide Leader" for nothing, so to go from ESPN, to OLN (the Outdoor Living Network) was a bit of a drop.The 2003-2004 was the last season on ESPN, and with no season the following year, the group from Bristol, CT opted not to renew their deal with the NHL.While the NHL was a key part in OLN's journey to becoming the NBC Sports Network, the fact that many cable subscribers did not get the channel hurt the league’s ratings.Ironically, as NBC and the NHL brokered a new deal this past season, the league fell apart, screwing hockey fans once again.Another funny note is the fact that ESPN aired a game earlier this season, from I believe the KHL, that featured a few NHL players, including the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara.5. Switching from home whites to road whites.This is probably the most petty of my things that I loathe list, but I hate, hate, hate, when teams wear their dark jerseys at home.Once in a while, for special occasions like when the original six teams wore the dark sweaters during the 1991-1992 season in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the League, I can get on board with, but to make the permanent switch just makes me angry.Now throughout history, teams wore their darks at home and their darks on the road because all they had were their darks. Then the white jerseys showed up and they still wore the darks at home, because hey, that is how it had always been.Then sometime in the 1970's the switch was made to wear the whites at home, and that is what I was raised on.Does anyone remember the White Out in Winnipeg during the 1990's, when the arena would be filled all the way to the giant picture of the Queen with white towels swirling in the air as the Jets took to the ice during the play-offs?I do.It was awesome.Soon other teams picked up on it, and it was White-Out mania across the league.Now we have the Red-Out in Washington (what is this Carrie?) and the Orange-Out in Philly (Pumpkin Time).I’m still looking to see if the Sharks will ever have a Turquoise-Out in San Jose, but with their new black home jerseys, I doubt if that nightmare will come to fruition.Well, there is not much else I can do but whine and complain while the league and its’ players do the same.I guess all we can do now is hope Santa Claus will read a small Canadian child's wish list and grant us a season.