I’m finding it extremely difficult to like NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. In fact, let’s replace “extremely difficult” with “pretty much impossible.” I’m talking about the face he puts on the front of the National Hockey League. I think fans have to like Bettman to believe that he always has the best interests of the game at heart. I think he has business at heart. Hockey just happens to be that business. And, as a fan of hockey in Canada, that continues to make me very uneasy.
Last night, during the second intermission of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final – before Claude Giroux’ overtime winner cut the Blackhawks’ series lead in half – Bettman sat down for his annual face-to-face with Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean. When MacLean joined HNIC back in the mid-1980s, he was not a journalist. He was a weatherman in Red Deer, Alberta. Today, he has become an excellent journalist.
Sadly, in a let’s-begin-with-a-horribly-awkward-moment, MacLean sang “Happy Birthday” to Bettman. Gary replied by equating himself with President John F. Kennedy and MacLean with Marilyn Monroe. Uncomfortable. Let’s stay on point, boys. But then MacLean got right into the nuts-and-bolts of the interview. He began strongly grilling Bettman about the financial states of teams whose economic stability had recently come into question. And this is where Bettman instantly looks like a guy who’s holding many, many things back. And it shows.
Bettman never, ever took even a moment to consider what MacLean was actually asking him. He just began yammering on, almost always answering MacLean’s question with a question. MacLean asked him about the money situation with owner Tom Hicks in Dallas. Bettman pulled out his stock line: “We’re not in the habit of disclosing the financial details of franchises in the media.” (or words to that effect). If honesty was part of the equation, Bettman would have said, “Ron, we only release financial details of teams when it works to our benefit.” (or words to that effect). And then MacLean made his biggest mistake of all.
In one of his question volleys, Bettman blurted, “Where are you getting these questions, Ron?” And MacLean answered truthfully. Mistake. He said he got them from the players. Which is, of course, true. Ron and Don Cherry are great friends of almost all the players. A little too great if you ask me. Ron and Don talk to the players all the time. They hear the things that the players are concerned about. Glenn Healy, a long-time advocate of the NHLPA, is also now an HNIC colleague of Ron and Don. And once Ron blurted to Bettman that these were some of the players’ concerns, Bettman started to take Ron apart piece-by-piece. Instead of just logically, unemotionally, honestly addressing the issue, Bettman managed to throw MacLean on the defensive about his questions.
Of course, Ron should have answered, “Who the hell cares where I got my questions, Gary. I have them and I’m addressing them to you. Do you have some answers for us?” But that wouldn’t fit the we’re-all-in-bed-with-each-other mantra of HNIC and the NHL.
In the end, the viewer learned absolutely nothing. Which is exactly the way little Gary Bettman wanted it. He strolled out of the studio, patting himself on the back. But not before Ron apologized for being “confrontational.” Bettman, replied, “Oh, it wasn’t confrontational at all, Ron.” You tell me, is there anything there to like?