Do you hate Gary Bettman?
Good, because that's his job. Loather-in-chief. A sponge for your abhorrence, a deflector shield for whomever that hatred should be actually directed towards.
It's a rite of passage for a National Hockey League fan to blame every problem great or miniscule on Bettman because it feels right; Bettman is to bile as a teddy bear is to love — a magnet for such things.
I'm as guilty as anyone. Back when I was writing a web column called "The Jester's Quart", it was described as a "weekly satirical look at sports, pop culture and why NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is a jackass." Because, in my eyes, he was. I used to blame him for, like, the puck over the glass rule. It was that level of blind rage.
But as Bettman's commissionership reaches its 20th anniversary on Tuesday, many of us have changed our views on him. Not that there isn't anything to loathe — oh, for the love of all that is holy and hockey, is there stuff to loathe — but because Gary Bettman shouldn't take the blame for every mistake, misstep and lingering problem that faces the National Hockey League in 2012.
It's not that he's done poorly as commissioner, because the facts bear out that he hasn't.
So what's his legacy?
That he didn't maximize the opportunities that were in front of him. That the NHL's full potential as an entertainment product in the U.S. has never been achieved. That it has had growth, but could have grown so much larger.
Which was, in fact, Bettman's mandate back on Dec. 12, 1992.
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