The National Hockey League is clearly in its annual focus period as the Stanley Cup is winding down to the finals. This year’s march to the cup is well under way and has already featured some Game 7 playoff magic, just like the NBA. But, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman may be more focused on the future than he is the immediate present, even if this is the season when hockey shines brightest. League expansion may be the topic that has Bettman’s attention the most, as the league eyes the Pacific Northwest as a good area for growing the professional hockey market. In addition, the World Cup hosting possibilities are present too, and Bettman wants the NHL to be central to any international professional competition.
It is no secret that professional hockey lags behind the other professional sports leagues in the United States, and the Canadian hockey traditionalists are okay with that. Bettman has been soundly criticized for his southern United States expansion agenda for the league. Professional baseball is a time-honored tradition, the National Football League is probably the most popular professional sports league, and the National Basketball Association occupies the monster share of media airspace during the playoffs. But, hockey has seen its share of attention recently during the playoff season. And Bettman, along with Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, has still been courting the city of Seattle as a possible expansion NHL city.
Bettman recently stated that the Seattle expansion possibilities are not strong, and the league is not in any serious discussions with the city. Seattle financiers are actually more interested in bringing the National Basketball Association back to town, but either professional sports addition would also require building a new arena that would double as the home venue for both professional establishments. If the NBA opens the door, then the NHL could help keep the arena full, which is the real purpose of professional sports attractions. Both Bettman and Daly see the doorway, but finalization is a long way off for the Pacific Northwest hockey fans.
The highest accomplishment on the list of probabilities, and clearly on the future agenda, is bring the World Cup hockey competition to the United States. Both Betttman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly were vocal about the drive to host the games, as both NHL executives stated that it is a definite possibility. The games are also a definite international focus. This is the type of vision that Bettman has had for the league since his installation as NHL Commissioner in 1993, even though his vision has been generally criticized.
Bettman has been no stranger to controversy during his tenure as NHL commissioner. He has presided over three contract negotiations, including player lockouts, and the suspension of an entire season of professional hockey. Of course, Bettman may not be stranger to taking a big gamble. His brother is past commissioner of the World Series of Poker. However, he has been successful on the television broadcast front, as the NHL signed a broadcast agreement with both Fox and NBC in the past decade, which gives the league a broadcast comparative to the other professional sports in NHL cities.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has been a trail blazer in many ways, as he is the only commissioner the NHL has ever known. Regardless of criticism, he has maintained his focus on growing the sport of hockey in as many avenues as possible. The sport that has traditionally been international in nature is now becoming popular across the entire United States. And as much as the old timer hockey fans want to complain, Bettman is still following his vision for growing the NHL.
Photo Credit to Adam Glanzman via Flickr