Gary Bettman's two-decade reign
has brought fans lockouts, soaring ticket prices, on-ice tinkering,
and the heartbreaking departures of Canadian teams for American
markets, and seen the centre of NHL power shift to Manhattan. Many
hardcore hockey followers are convinced the commissioner is out to
ruin the game this country loves.
Still, when Bettman took over in
1992, the gross revenue of the National Hockey League was US$400
million. This season, the figure will be closer to $3.3 billion-an
eightfold increase. If that were the only criterion by which to
judge Bettman's tenure, he'd be a business success story. But on
his watch, professional hockey has expanded beyond its traditional
strongholds and shown it can prosper in unlikely places-even on
American networks. And the best players in the world now all ply
their trade in the league that Gary built.
By taming the NHL's famously
fractious owners, all but busting its players' union, and by
enforcing lawyerly discipline on everything from trash talk to Jim
Balsillie's efforts to crash the party, Bettman has become a figure
of almost unrivalled power in the business of sport. His influence
shapes leagues in other countries, dictates the schedule of the
Olympic Winter Games, and spills onto the ice itself with
innovations such as the shootout and a second referee, and with
crackdowns on obstruction and headshots.
In The Instigator,
Jonathon Gatehouse details the unlikely ascension of a lonely New
York City kid from a single-parent family who never played hockey
and can barely skate to the sport's biggest job. It examines his
motivations, peels back his often aloof demeanour, and explains how
a true outsider manages to lead, confound, and keep order in the
game Canadians love.