If The Islanders’ Time Is Limited After Failed Vote, Will It Pile On To Bettman’s Legacy Of Relocation?

Faces of compentency in today’s NHL.

Something that Gary Bettman crowed about – as did members of the media and others covering the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers – is that the NHL is on par with other teams as far as relocation goes. The Thrashers were the first team to move in fifteen years, and that relocation happens in every sports league do to economic factors, fan support, the like.



Ok, fine – that does make sense. I’m not going to stand up and say that the economic situations for the relocation of the Nordiques, Jets, Whalers, and Thrashers weren’t all terrible – that the teams didn’t have the strong ownership that were dedicated to making their teams work in their markets. Phoenix is up in the air as far as their time remaining in their city. As much as I would like to see the Coyotes get a viable owner and stay put, the clock is ticking and it isn’t looking good for the team. Last night’s crushing defeat of the vote on Long Island to bring the Islanders their long-awaited new arena might also have turned that team’s situation into another ticking time bomb. They have until 2015 in the current Nassau Coliseum before their lease is up and they have to move. Their owner, Charles Wang, has lost an absurd amount of money on the team – and his statements that he was “heartbroken” that the vote didn’t pass might have less to do about the Islanders’ well-being and more to do with his pocketbook.

Charles Wang has never been a good owner. His offer to build the Lighthouse Project out of his own pocket was an effort to minimize losses, as was this vote last night. The interesting thing is, perhaps – economy and lack of actual explaining of the vote notwithstanding – if Wang was a competent owner who understood hockey operations, his team would be in better shape? You know, maybe they’d be able to advertise their up and comers and some on-ice success instead of harkening back to the days of Potvin to get votes? 

We all know what idiots Atlanta Spirit were. Even the Hockey News is cautioning people not to dump on Atlanta fans without realizing what was going on here. Obviously the NHL can’t find an owner for the Coyotes yet, continuing that team’s trend of owners who don’t seem to care.

The economy goes only so far as an excuse. If you can market an item as something that has quality – something that’s almost a necessity for a city or a community – people will buy it. Unfortunately, these six teams mentioned above were never marketed that way. The community love was there for the Jets, ‘Diques, and Whalers, but the community love was outweighed by incompetency and local municipal indifference. It’s not every day that you have a hockey team playing in a shopping mall and an owner bilking ther loyal season ticket holders, is it?

All six of these markets are viable hockey markets if the team is run properly and if the owners allow a culture of success and winning to take hold. That’s been impossible to attain for any of these teams except for the Islanders, but how long can you keep memories from thirty years ago alive? Rebirth has to take place sometimes, and if the Board of Governors continues to approve individuals who have no business owning a team – no qualifications past the amount of money that they have – then this relocation business is going to continue to get worse. This is where the commissioner comes in.

Much like the president, the commissioner of the league is more than a figurehead – he’s the guy that gets the blame when stuff goes wrong, because he’s supposed to be the guiding factor in decisions and policy. Gary Bettman has been in that position since 1993. That’s eighteen years, so in commissioner years that makes him Moses. Very rarely do commissioners in other leagues last longer than fifteen seasons. Two in the NFL (Pete Rozelle – 29 years, Paul Tagliabue – 17 years), two in MLB (Kenesaw Landis – 24 years, Bowie Kuhn – 15 years) and two of the four NBA commissioners (Maurice Podoloff – 17 years and David Stern, 26 years). Generally those viewed as the most competent by the owners, front offices, and fans have lasted the longest.

In the NHL, we have four people who cracked the fifteen year mark. Frank Calder was commissioner for 26 years, Clarence Campbell was commssioner for 29, and John Ziegler was commissioner for 15. Gary Bettman is, of course, number four. Under those, we saw Campbell lose the California Golden Seals and Kansas City Scouts in 1976. Under Ziegler the league lost the Cleveland Barons, Colorado Rockies, and Atlanta Flames. Under Bettman so far the league has lost the Minnesota North Stars, the Quebec Nordiques, the Winnipeg Jets, the Hartford Whalers, and the Atlanta Thrashers.

Toss in the Phoenix Coyotes and the New York Islanders, and we’re up to seven teams. Seven teams, Gary, between 1993 and 2015. Bettman would have lost more than three times the markets as Campbell in about the same amount of time. When does accountability kick in? If the nation loses trade partners that damage the economy, who eventually takes the blame? El presidente. It doesn’t matter what the outlying factors might be, or how situations are mis-managed. It’s still his fault. In the NHL’s case, it’s the Board of Governors’ job to approve owners. If you read the team histories of the organizations who have moved since 1976, or even before then, it’s mostly because of ownership being incompetent. Owners that – like Charles Wang and the Atlanta Spirit Group – were approved by the NHL with very little oversight from their commissioner.

You can say that Bettman’s expanded the sport, you can say that he’s grown marketability, you can try to make excuses. You can’t grow a sport somewhere by leaving a team there for a brief amount of time and then letting it be pulled away because of mistakes by owners that never should have been approved. Thank God Boots got arrested before he could do any more damage to Nashville. Bettman’s list could have wound up going up to eight. 

About Laura Astorian

Laura Astorian is the head editor for the SB Nation blog St. Louis Game Time and has been a Blues fan from childhood. She promises that any anti-Blackhawks bias will be left at the door. Maybe.