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Weber's Review of "The Instigator: How Gary Bettman Remade the NHL and Changed the Game Forever."

by Pete Weber / Nashville Predators

If you are seeking other means to satisfy your “hockey jones,” Predators Voice Pete Weber will be periodically reviewing various forms of hockey media.

In this installment, he reviews “The Instigator: How Gary Bettman Remade the NHL and Changed the Game Forever.” (Published by Triumph Books)

Jonathon Gatehouse, a senior correspondent for Canada’s MacLean’s magazine, wrote this biography of the NHL Commissioner. Gatehouse is not regularly assigned to the hockey beat, so his perspective on his subject is fresh – and thorough.

While this is not an “authorized” biography, Bettman did cooperate with Gatehouse, providing him with access to himself and others within the NHL family.

Gatehouse takes you into Bettman’s upbringing, his time in college at Cornell, law school days at NYU, breaking into the law, landing at the Proskauer Rose law firm, then the NBA office (where he earned his reputation with a salary cap system), all the way to his NHL office in a corner suite at 47th and the Avenue of the Americas in New York.

We find out that then NHL Board of Governors Chairman Bruce McNall had initially attempted to hire NBA Commissioner David Stern to lead the NHL at a lunch meeting in the fall of 1992. McNall quickly found out that Stern was not interested. McNall then inquired as to the availability of Stern’s second-in-command, Russ Granik, but was rebuffed again. However, Stern heartily endorsed 40-year old Gary Bettman, calling to McNall’s attention the fact that Bettman was entrenched in all of the NBA’s labor negotiation.

That was precisely the sort of endorsement the NHL was seeking as the league made a clean break from the John Zeigler – Gil Stein regime, which many owners thought had failed them in CBA negotiations with the players.

It still left the NHL with some additional restructuring. All previous heads of the National Hockey League had been titled “President.” Bettman was going to come in as “Commissioner,” with enhanced powers over his predecessors.

So, on December 11,1992, at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Commissioner Gary Bettman was introduced to the hockey world.

As he entered the NHL, the league was undergoing massive changes. The day before his introduction, the move of the “North” Stars to Dallas was approved for the fall of 1993. Then, the league expanded to 26 teams with the additions of South Florida and Anaheim. Four years later, was the next wave of new teams, Nashville announced along with Atlanta (now Winnipeg), Columbus, and Minnesota. It seems like the changes have never stopped since that point in time.

Gatehouse provides a behind-the-scenes look at all of those, along with the franchise moves from Quebec City to Denver and Winnipeg to Phoenix. Consider those moves with the ownership changes, and the thought is pounded into your brain – the biggest component of the major league games we follow is business!

What also has occurred during Bettman’s near-20 years as Commissioner are three work stoppages, and how Bettman has tried to hold the league together while the naturally adversarial negotiations take place. After all, that’s why he was hired!

The insights provided here are very important now for fans attempting to understand what the situation is like for Bettman on his side of the table.

Gatehouse gives his interpretation from the outside of the Bettman – Bob Goodenow negotiations of 1994-95 and 2004-05. He also includes a chapter on current NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr, former head of the Major League [Baseball] Players Association and student of Marvin Miller.

Those portrayals are important if you are to have any chance of comprehending what hockey faces now. I think such understanding is important to hockey fans today.

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