Gary Bettman’s two-decade-long reign has brought 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. 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. 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. Gatehouse examines Bettman’s 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.