Rare are the instances of bold and frank and accurate autopsies performed by media in this country, which makes Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel’s “Unhappy Anniversary” from yesterday so welcome. Fair to say, we think, that it was received in the NHL’s New York offices as coolly as the temps outside. No manner of further buildup necessary; it’s best read while in hospital surgical scrubs to protect your new Christmas sweater.
“Bettman is set to begin his 15th year as commissioner Thursday, and like most hockey fans I feel the need to mark the occasion by popping a bottle of champagne, chugging the entire thing in an effort to drown my misery and then smashing the empty bottle over my temple to black out the memories . . . There has never been a commissioner of a major North American sports league this inept, yet the league’s board of governors keeps employing him, keeps giving him another chance to sink this once-proud, once-vibrant league to new depths.”
No pulled punches here either:
“The Bettman era has been an unmitigated disaster for the league in virtually every possible way, one outrageously terrible initiative after another.”
Then Wetzel goes to the heart of the matter:
“I could write a book about Bettman’s insulting and imbecilic moves through the years (Chapter 9: “The Glowing Puck”) but the main problem has always been the same. He has shown no respect for the game, for its history, for its fans, for its unique qualities . . . The league is now overexpanded and overpriced, misplaced and misdirected. It is less exciting, less interesting, less traditional and more difficult to follow for the non-obsessive fan.”
Next Wetzel echoes OFB’s longstanding concern about families being economic casualties of the Bettman era: “It’s dispiriting that the league chased the fickle corporate dollar and priced out families.”
Any problems with the league’s schedule, Dan?
“The negatives are too numerous to list, but consider the league’s current uneven schedule which serves no purpose other than cutting travel costs for a few cheapskate owners. Teams play eight games per season against division foes, or 32 a year against just four teams.
“Bettman claimed it would spawn “new” rivalries. Of course, old rivalries such as Detroit-Toronto — two hockey-mad towns separated by a single highway that actually has an exit for Wayne Gretzky Blvd. — no longer play a home-and-home series each season. It’s like killing Red Sox-Yankees so Blue Jays-Diamondbacks might catch on.”
How good is the piece? “Fighting,” “hockey,” and “beer” are found in this lone sentence:
“And, since fighting has been curbed, the “new” rivalries haven’t really taken because a hockey rivalry without fighting is like non-alcoholic beer.”
And on that note, we conclude: Mr. Wetzel, when business next brings you to Washington — hopefully not to cover a stands-empty “showdown” in the Southeast — we at OFB will be purchasing you all of your beer.