There have been a seemingly countless number of unexpectedly absurd developments over the course of 2020 that make you think, “Ok, there’s no way anything could possibly top this” only for the year to almost immediately pull a “Hold my beer!” and introduced another twist that somehow manages to do exactly that.
By this point, I’ve probably forgotten more examples than I actually remember, but of all of the things we’ve been confronted with since being thrust into this bizarre reality we currently inhabit, there’s one particular thing that leaps to mind that I had a great deal of trouble grappling with: Gary Bettman doing something worthy of universal praise.
Since stepping into the role of NHL commissioner in 1993, Bettman has been a frequent target of criticism thanks to various issues that many fans feel have undermined the push to make the sport appeal to a broader audience, including ill-advised television deals that led to ESPN all but admitting it couldn’t give less of a shit about something it had no financial stake in as well as the three lockouts—including one that led to the cancellation of the 2004-05 season—that have occurred under his watch.
However, Bettman and the NHL deserve all the credit in the world for what they managed to pull off by finishing out the remainder of the suspended season in the bubbles constructed in Canada. There were rumors the NHL was collecting recordings of people booing to pump through the speakers during the presentation of the Stanley Cup, but based on how he handled the situation, I think it was appropriate Bettman was spared the jeers this year.
As of early last month, the league was shooting to kick off a full 82-game season on New Year’s Day, but according to an extensive report published by ESPN on the current state of affairs, it appears those plans (in addition to the idea of playing the first game on a lake in Alberta), have begun to fall apart. The article addresses the many issues currently being sorted out, but there’s perhaps nothing more notable than the revelation that some owners are apparently pushing to cancel the season altogether if games have to be played in the absence of fans:
According to several sources, a few owners have suggested to Bettman that the league might be better off financially if it shuts down next season, since playing in empty arenas could be crippling to the bottom line. The NHL is still very much a gate-driven league in comparison to a league like the NFL, which draws most of its revenue from media rights.
It seems highly doubtful thousands of people will be allowed to gather in confined spaces at any point in the near future based on current trends. Thankfully, it appears Bettman is learning from history to avoid repeating it, as it appears the idea isn’t being taken into serious consideration based on the detrimental impact a year without hockey could have on interest in the sport in the long term. With that said, it seems like playing a full schedule is looking increasingly unlikely, as the report also says the slate could be cut down to 65 games and possibly as low as 48.
I never thought I’d find myself acknowledging Bettman was making the right call multiple times in the same year, but here we are. Based on all of the factors involved, it’s going to be interesting to see how this all plays out, but if forced to choose between no hockey and less hockey than what we’re used to, I’ll take that second option every single time.