The big men behind the conflict Here's a look at the leaders of the NHL and NHLPA and their role in the conflict.
Gary Bettman (NHL)
The commissioner of the National Hockey League took over on Feb. 1, 1993 as the first and only person to hold that position. Formerly, he was a National Basketball Association executive. Credited as playing an important role in the success of the NBA in the 80s, Bettman was brought in by the NHL in hopes of bringing the same success to a traditionally non-American sport.
Bettman’s first order of business was to expand the NHL into the south in an attempt to create interest throughout the states. The perception was that the NHL could support more teams, and more teams should be in the U.S., because that’s where the money was. Long-standing NHL teams such as Hartford and Winnipeg were relocated to places with mild winters – Phoenix and Carolina - which had no reputations for or affiliations with hockey.
The NHL has previously consisted of the Wales and Campbell conferences, in reference to the trophies awarded to the winner of each conference. While conference teams were previously assigned to one, instead, Bettman made the Eastern and Western conferences – much like the NBA. Geography, in the minds of some hockey purists, replaced tradition. The trophies are still awarded, however, as the Eastern and Western champions receive the Wales and Campbell trophies, respectively.
In 2004, the NHL failed to re-secure a television deal with ABC. The NHL and NBC managed to hammer out a deal – one that many felt was a sign of bad times for hockey in North America. The deal did not guarantee advertising revenues for the NHL, a stark contrast from other major sports in the continent. The deal led many to question whether hockey remained one of the four “big” sports, along with basketball, baseball and football.
On Sept. 15, 2005, the NHL lockout began, but it was not the first time Bettman experienced such a situation. The 1994-1995 season was shortened to 42 games after a lockout dragged on into January of ’95.
Bettman was named one of Business Week magazine’s five worst executives in 2005 because of the lockout and the NBC television deal. He has been criticized for not understanding the sport of hockey and simply looking at the NHL for expanding profits, rather than ensuring the health of the game.
Bob Goodenow (NHLPA)
Goodenow became the executive director of the National Hockey League Players’ Association in 1992. He was responsible for the players during what, for them, was a very profitable 12 years. While Goodenow was in charge of the NHLPA, the average player salary in the NHL rose from$368,000 in 1992 to $1.83 million in 2004.
Goodenow, a lawyer, has a reputation as both a hard-liner and a stubborn-yet-efficient deal-maker. Many believe that bad blood exists between Bettman and Goodenow as a result of their clashes over the years. Mere months after obtaining his position, Goodenow led the players on a 10-day strike just before the Stanley Cup playoffs. Again in 1994, the lockout that shortened the season was bitter and only resolved in what many believed to be the eleventh hour.
Many believe that the deal ushered in by Goodenow in January 1995 led to the financial woes experienced by the NHL in later years. That collective bargaining agreement (CBA) included an arbitration process that allowed players and owners to have a mediator come in and negotiate a contract. This process consistently sided in favor of players instead of owners, resulting in a significant and consistent increase in players’ salaries.