Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?
Okay bear with me here.
The central premise that I am currently proposing is that Gary Bettman has been a good steward for the sport of hockey in his reign as the NHL's commissioner.
No one (besides the owners) seems to like him very much, but the fact of the matter is that he's made this sport more popular on a national and international level than it ever has been.
You may not like the puck-over-the-glass rule. You may not like the shootout. You may not like that he injects himself into every major event from presenting the Stanley Cup to calling out picks and transactions at the draft. You may not like the southern expansion he apparently insisted upon because somehow the fact that there's a team in Miami and not Flin Flon is deeply offensive to you on a personal level.
You almost certainly don't like all the lockouts.
Even if you think the NHL is great as-is, it seems like every summer there's a slew of articles about "Here's what the NHL needs to fix," and I think that's probably a thing that happens in hockey more than in any other sport. This is because it's been widely acknowledged that NHL hockey, as it stands right now, is largely imperfect, and I don't think there's a person alive who would argue to the contrary. Including Bettman.
Nonetheless, all the ills the league suffers are largely heaped upon Bettman's head. This was certainly evident during the lockout when, despite the fact that he was speaking on behalf of the owners who pay his considerable salary, and admittedly acting like a bit of a crybaby throughout the process, all the anger was focused on him, and all the fans who were so, so mad at him packed arenas league-wide to near-capacity.
It was very much a case of people getting mad at the puppet for what the ventriloquist says without moving his lips, and the cognitive dissonance it must take to at once commit oneself fully to forking over hundreds of dollars to take in a single game, in some cases, while also decrying Bettman as the root of all evil is fairly staggering.
But for all that Bettman hate out there, one thing hockey fans should think about at night, when they put head to pillow and start counting Sidney Crosbys jumping over a fence, is how lucky they are that a guy like Bud Selig isn't running this league.
For all the flak Bettman gets, one thing you can say in his favor -- regardless of whether you like him -- is that he seems to have the best interests of the sport at heart, in addition to that thing in his job description about making the owners a bunch of money. I don't know whose interests Selig has in mind at this point.
Leaving aside all that stuff about how the All-Star Game counts in determining which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series — which is broadly, and rightly, viewed as a pathetic attention-grab even Bettman wouldn't attempt in his most desperately shameless moments — the way in which Major League Baseball has handled the BioGenesis situation was embarrassing from the beginning.
In all, 13 players were suspended for their involvement with the anti-aging clinic, believed to have given them all sorts of performance-enhancing drugs, which are obviously a major no-no in baseball and most other professional sports.
Of those, 12 were given 50-game suspensions, in addition to the 50-plus-15 Ryan Braun got toward the end of July. The last guy was obviously Alex Rodriguez, who was suspended for the entirety of this season's remainder, as well as all 162 games next year.
Seem draconian? That's because it is.
It should be noted that Rodriguez never failed a drug test, and instead seems to have been nearly run out of the sport because, well, no one likes A-Rod. David Ortiz failed a drug test (albeit in 2003 when these drugs were not specifically illegal), and Andy Pettitte has admitted to taking PEDs. Both are happily plugging along in the Majors years later.
Rodriguez, like Barry Bonds before him, is a convenient scapegoat that allows Selig to show how Very Seriously he and Major League Baseball takes the PED problem that festered in the sport while they were asleep at the switch, and for which they were more than happy to turn away while baseballs were traveling out of the field of play at a trillion miles an hour all over the country in the mid- to late-1990s after the league needed to mend fences with the fans it alienated during the protracted and unnecessary players' strike of 1994.
The current situation in which guys are railroaded is a beast entirely of Selig's creation, and all the suspensions now aren't so much MLB getting proactive about the problem as pointing frequently at something off to your right so you won't look at the inconvenient realities sitting pretty noticeably to your immediate left.
Now, the obvious point to make here is that it's probably silly and naïve for anyone to think that there are no NHL players taking performance-enhancing drugs. On a statistical basis, some of them must. We know that both Bryan Berard and Sean Hill have tested positive for them (only Hill was suspended because the league didn't administer Berard's test), but other than that, there's not much happening on that front.
For whatever reason, there hasn't been a positive test since 2007, and that's a good thing for hockey. It's certainly not an epidemic like it appears to be in baseball.
Under Selig, America's pastime rose to unprecedented popularity because Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had arms the size of Sidney Crosby's thighs. (Even if they still had to get around on all those pitches and actually put bat to ball, and even if there's still no proven, direct link between PEDs and the ability to be better at the things you need to be good at baseball). Under Bettman, the NHL did the same thing and did it all with something at least resembling total transparency.
The Miami Marlins are a joke because their owner is an odious cheapskate who doesn't give a rat's ass about anything but his bottom line. I suppose that's his right as a businessman, but the problem is that Selig bent over backward and facilitated a number of transactions -- most notably MLB taking over the Montreal Expos so that Jeffrey Loria, their owner at the time who threw a hissy fit over not getting a publicly-funded stadium, could buy the Marlins from John Henry, who was part of an ownership group purchasing the Red Sox -- that allowed him to behave this way despite years of evidence that he was a bad owner, and thus not good for the sport.
Bettman, by way of comparison, has made a lot of missteps with ownership situations over the years, but at least they've all been right out in the open. He's also stuck by markets, despite the deep embarrassment it brought him, because he honestly felt it was good for the sport, rather than necessarily getting a deal that would net his employers a lot more money. The Jets' revenues on a nightly basis are said to double those enjoyed in Atlanta, and similar moves for dying franchises could likewise fill coffers, but Bettman is trying to be a good steward, and whether he's succeeding or not, he's clearly not driven entirely by mere monetary gains.
Hockey today is obviously not without its foibles. As this was being written, it was reported and then disputed that the league would have to take over the Devils because their perpetually cash-strapped owner missed a debt payment, just four days after the league finally found someone dumb enough to buy the Coyotes and keep them in Glendale. Concussions remain a major problem. As does supplementary discipline. But the one thing you can say definitively in the league and Bettman's favor is that it's all aboveboard.
Nothing shady. Nothing vindictive. Nothing especially self-aggrandizing or legacy-saving. Selig is supposedly going to retire in 2015, and is likely to leave baseball considerably healthier than when he became commissioner, but with a large pall cast over his reign. By the time Gary Bettman rides off into the sunset, his league will also be in a far better position, and still have its credibility intact.
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- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey
- Gary Bettman
- Major League Baseball
- Bud Selig