NHL and Bettman – Antiquated Response Signals Time For Overdue Change
"The game has a lot of inconsistencies, but this isn’t one that should wait until a General Manager’s meeting by the ocean sands, or a trial mid-season rule change; If there was ever an event in the NHL where fans and owners should demand change, this is it."

While I was driving to pick up the kids at school today, I noticed a man with one of those high-powered leaf blowers shuffling all the leaves off his lawn onto the street. At that moment, a gust of wind carried them a few houses down and then a crosswind blew them onto someone else’s lawn. The man stood proudly looking at how free of leaves and debris his lawn was. At that moment, I realized that this event was an actual reflection of today’s “not my problem if it’s not in my yard” NHL. That has never been clearer than the past few weeks as they blew their way through the continued mishandling of the Kyle Beach sexual assault case and it all starts and ends with the disconnected Commissioner, Gary Bettman.


Bettman has been the Commissioner since 1993 and while there’s little doubt, he helped sprawl the game across America and increase revenue to levels that helped create a protective shield around him by owners who mostly chose profit over health, safety, and organizational culture maturity on more than one occasion, his popularity amoung fans of the game has always been publicly challenged. What may have started as a joke, as fans often boo him during a public address or trophy presentations, seems to have taken on a more serious consistency in recent seasons. His insincerity during the press conference regarding Kyle Beach may be the event that ultimately shows how disconnected he really is with the fan base as he not only lacked displaying empathy and situational awareness but failed miserably at any form of authenticity. Gary Bettman came across as an NHL protectionist and the NHL owners usually love it because it has helped their bottom line. While some may still be enamoured, this case is different than billionaires arguing with millionaires over contracts – the Kyle Beach case resonates with the everyday fan as a basic human interest.


During his press conference Gary Bettman says that he told Kyle, “I am sorry for what he has been through”. I’ve written before in an article titled, “What It Means When You Say, “I Think You’re Missing My Point”, that where we place words and the tone with which we deliver them makes a difference in the messaging. The use of the word “he” in that statement puts the event entirely on Kyle. If Bettman was sincere, he would have perhaps said:


“I am sorry the NHL has failed you Kyle”,


“I am sorry the Chicago Blackhawks have failed you Kyle”, or maybe just a simple


“I am sorry Kyle”


while pausing with a moment of genuine reflection followed and supported by real and sustainable change. Gary Bettman never really apologizes to Kyle Beach. After a distanced apology, Bettman appears to read a prepared statement from a teleprompter, and it sounded more like a defense statement than a caring and deliberate olive branch towards healing and change. The fact that reporter Rick Westhead who has been a primary figure in exposing the events of this case was largely ignored until other reporters raised awareness is another indicator of Bettman’s obtuse and pompous approach to this case and one we have seen before. Gary Bettman failed in addressing Kyle Beach and having the NHL take real accountability through this press conference.


If we park the words and demeanour for a moment and explore the financial punitive measuring stick of the NHL, it also lacks logic while proving an outdated mentality exists in dealing with systemic issues. The Chicago Blackhawks organization was fined $2 million dollars for the lack of their response to the Kyle Beach case. In 2010, the same year that the Kyle Beach abuse happened, the NHL fined the New Jersey Devils $3 million dollars for circumventing the Collective Bargaining Agreement in their initial signing of player Ilya Kovalchuk. That’s $1 million dollars more for a team cheating to play the game versus a team covering up or ignoring abuse of another human being. To put that into perspective, according to Scott Burnside, in his article “NHL financial impact: How much money does a team bring in each home game?”, a home team might take in between $1.5 to $3 million in concessions per game. Compare the 1 game impact of that for the Chicago Blackhawks to the experience Kyle Beach went through and like many other NHL rulings, it just doesn’t make sense. Gary Bettman and the NHL failed in delivering not just a more appropriate fine, but a message that would have set an example and tone for any type of future conduct of this nature.

If the NHL owners don’t step up and demand a change in their leadership and that means out with Gary Bettman and anyone in his close circle, then they are all equally culpable for the past and future of a hockey culture that is antiquated. The game inside the arenas isn’t the same as the one outside as the NHL and its Commissioner remain in a Twilight Zone time warp. The game has a lot of inconsistencies, but this isn’t one that should wait until a General Manager’s meeting by the ocean sands, or a trial mid-season rule change; If there was ever an event in the NHL where fans and owners should demand change, this is it.


The NHL has antiquated rules, culture, and leadership and it is overdue for real change. Fans know it, owners should want it, and sponsors should influence it. NHL, it’s time to put away your leaf blowers and clean up your own yard and it starts with the guy at the top admiring his own work.


This is an opinion article by Guido Piraino of  The Monthly Social Podcast. It may also be heard on The Path Radio Mix Online. You can read other opinion articles on the blog page.


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