On Wednesday, the NHL rejected the latest CBA proposal from the player’s union. Two days later, it cancelled games through December 14th and cancelled the 2013 All Star Game.

Gary Bettman would have been the most ridiculed and despised commissioner of a major sport even if the NHL hadn’t locked out the players again this season, which is the third time he’s resorted to that measure during his two decades as commissioner. Jonathon Gatehouse, the author of The Instigator: How Gary Bettman Remade the NHL and Changed the Game Forever, spoke with Bill Littlefield.


Bill’s thoughts on The Instigator: How Gary Bettman Remade the NHL and Changed the Game Forever

A fan might be excused for assuming that the primary responsibility of the commissioner of a professional sport would be to keep that sport running as smoothly as possible. This assumption would be based on the apparently sensible proposition that sports is entertainment, and there is nothing entertaining about an arena that is empty because the games have been cancelled.

But in fact the great end and real business of the commissioner of a pro sports league is to reign in the most destructively greedy impulses of his employers, the men who own the teams in his league, and to convince them that he is doing all he can to maximize their profits, even if that means eliminating their profits altogether for a time by locking out the players, sometimes for as long as an entire season.

Gary Bettman has been good enough at that task to keep his job as Commissioner of the National Hockey League for twenty years.

Perhaps that is all you know and all you need to know about Mr. Bettman, but in case it isn’t, Jonathon Gatehouse has written a book that credits Bettman with “changing the game forever” and becoming perhaps the most thoroughly hated and ridiculed commissioner of any pro sport at any time. This is a distinction not to be taken lightly in a sports landscape that has been dotted with the likes of Bowie Kuhn and Bud Selig.

As Gatehouse points out, in terms of TV ratings, the most recent edition of the Stanley Cup Finals got hammered by “reality TV, dramatic series, reruns of America’s Funniest Home Videos, and the NBA draft lottery.” “If there was a channel devoted to drying paint,” he writes, “it might well have bested hockey, too.”

Under these circumstances, how much sense does it make to infuriate or at least alienate the relatively few people who do care about pro hockey?

According to Gary Bettman and the team owners to whom he answers, plenty.