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Bettman fit for Hall of Fame after tireless work to grow NHL, Daly says

Deputy Commissioner credits Commissioner for League's financial stability, increased fan interest

by Bill Daly / Special to

Bill Daly was named the NHL's first Deputy Commissioner by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on July 22, 2005. Daly had been the League's Chief Legal Officer for more than eight years before becoming Deputy Commissioner. Having worked side by side with Commissioner Bettman for 13 years, Daly shares his thoughts on the Commissioner, who will go into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, in a special testimonial for 

Gary Bettman is not only a colleague, a mentor and a friend, he is unquestionably the most influential executive in the history of the National Hockey League. His place in the Hockey Hall of Fame is as close to an empty-netter as they come.

Gary's career accomplishments in the game are too many to even attempt to list exhaustively. Over his 25-plus years as the League's first Commissioner, Gary has guided the NHL through the most prolific growth phase in the League's history both on the ice and in all areas of its business. Through expansion, he has grown the number of franchises from 24 at the time of his election to 31 today (with the application for a 32nd franchise pending). Fees for those expansion teams have grown from $50 million in 1993 to $500 million in 2017 (and to $650 million if a Seattle franchise is added) -- just one indication of the tremendous growth in value he has generated for the League and our clubs.

As importantly, he has brought NHL hockey to new markets -- places like Nashville and Las Vegas and Dallas and Denver and Phoenix and Carolina and Columbus -- as well as returning it to markets where it always has belonged (Minnesota and Winnipeg). In so doing, he has introduced our great sport to new and diverse audiences of people and, predictably, those people have not only grown to love the game, they have become passionate about the game. Participation in hockey is at an all-time high, as is fandom for the NHL, our teams and our players (regular-season attendance for NHL games has grown 36 percent during Gary's tenure, up from roughly 14 million to over 22 million fans). In this regard, Gary has worked tirelessly to maximize the exposure of our game and the NHL brand -- on a worldwide basis -- both through traditional media platforms and, more recently, by utilizing new and emerging technologies to better connect with our existing fans and to cultivate new ones.

One critical element of his successful strategy to grow the game was the development and introduction through collective bargaining with the NHL Players' Association of a sound economic system that promotes competitive balance among our franchises and establishes a framework for long-term financial stability across the League. While that system initially proved difficult and costly to negotiate, Gary's leadership and determination to achieve the end goal ensured that it was ultimately secured. And that collectively bargained economic system remains one of the most important pillars of the League's success today -- success that is evidenced by, among other things, vastly increased revenues (up from roughly $400 million to over $4.5 billion during Gary's tenure) which, in addition to the increasing value of Club rights, have been fueled by a disproportionately larger rate of increase in the revenues generated centrally by the League.

Gary has a profound respect and admiration for NHL players -- who he considers to be the best and most skilled professional athletes in the world. And he credits them fully for their role in helping to achieve the League's current level of success and popularity. And, in that regard, there is no question that Gary Bettman's tenure as Commissioner -- including the economic system we bargained for and implemented more than a decade ago -- has been enormously beneficial for NHL players as well. More franchises means more jobs for NHL players (in excess of 200 more players seeing NHL game action today than during the season Gary became Commissioner). And more revenues means higher player salaries (the average player salary in the League exceeded $3 million per year in 2017-18). Our economic system guarantees that the players share fairly (50-50) in the growth of our revenues and, as such, ensures an aligned interest with the players in growing our game and our League.

Player health and safety, in particular, is and always has been a high priority for the Commissioner. Whether it was his early support for advanced concussion study and injury management in the NHL; or his mandates requiring protective equipment upgrades and the "softening" of NHL playing environments; or his initiative to form the first ever Department of Player Safety in all of professional sports, Gary has always recognized and prioritized the critical importance of player safety.

Gary's vision and passion for the game are evident in everything he does. Unfairly labeled by some as "a basketball guy" at the time of his hire, he is unquestionably "a hockey guy" now -- there is no one I know who understands more about the game, the rules of the game and dynamics of the game than Gary Bettman. He watches NHL games religiously -- attending upwards of 60 games a year in person -- as well as monitoring hundreds of others on our out-of-market game television and digital packages. And his knowledge of the sport is universally respected among the "hockey experts" in our League, including our committee of general managers who have historically been (and remain) the guardians of the game.

The Commissioner is a principal architect of many of the changes that have been made to enhance the game and to maximize its appeal as an entertainment product. He introduced the two-referee system to the game of hockey for the first time; he supported the adoption of 4-on-4 and then 3-on-3 regular-season overtime formats to promote more exciting play at the end of games; he removed the center-ice red line as a barrier to two-line passes to open up the game and create more offense; he supported the implementation of the shootout as a mechanism to eliminate ties following regular-season overtime; he championed a different enforcement standard for hooking, holding and interference (and later slashing) to make the game more exciting and to better highlight our players' tremendous skills; he brought NHL clubs overseas to play regular-season games for the first time, thus beginning our efforts in earnest to cultivate and engage an international fan base; he perfected a video review procedure that has become the model to which all other professional sports leagues aspire. And the list goes on and on.

Gary has also consistently championed the use of the League's platform and profile to promote social good in communities across North America. Hockey Fights Cancer is celebrating its 20th anniversary this season; Hockey Is For Everyone has been promoting and celebrating increased diversity in our game for well over a decade; and the more recently established NHL Green initiative is now widely considered a "best-in-class" program for developing and employing best practices in environmental sustainability. The NHL, under Gary's leadership, has also consistently recognized the importance of supporting hockey development at all levels -- and for both men and women -- from the grassroots level right up to the junior and college hockey levels. The goal of our support for hockey development initiatives is not focused necessarily on developing future NHL players, as much as it is on encouraging increased participation, sharing and reinforcing hockey's positive values and, at the end of the day, helping to develop good citizens. Gary's leadership in developing and supporting all of these programs and their underlying objectives cannot be overstated.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention (and, more importantly, not to emphasize) that Gary Bettman is a Hall of Famer as a person, too. Smart, passionate, caring and loyal -- almost to a fault -- Gary cares about the people who make our sport great. Whether it is the Board of Governors he has served faithfully for almost three decades; or the players who night-in and night-out make our sport so special and represent it so well; or myriad League and club executives and support staff (GMs, coaches, trainers, equipment managers, office staff, on- and off-ice officials) who work so hard (often behind the scenes and out of the limelight) to help produce the most compelling sports product in the world; or the former owners and alumni players who built the League and to whom we continue to owe our thanks and our reverence -- Gary cares about and values them all, and has time for each and every one of them. He cares just as passionately about hockey fans -- about all hockey fans -- and everything he does in his capacity as Commissioner he does ultimately with hockey fans in mind.

So, his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame is an honor for which Gary Bettman is richly deserving. We are all fortunate for what he has done (and what he continues to do every day) for the National Hockey League and for the sport we all love. And now the Hockey Hall of Fame is similarly fortunate to be able to welcome him as one of its newest honored members.

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