"We serve the game of hockey. When we feel like it." - Bruce Bennett
After dragging fans through the last lockout in 2004-05, the NHL had an advertising agency draft an uplifting new mission statement to be framed and displayed throughout the league. Naturally, it couldn't heed it.
If you've read "The Instigator: How Gary Bettman Remade the NHL and Changed the Game Forever," you know that Jonathon Gatehouse's 2012 look at the NHL commissioner contains the full text of a league mission statement crafted at the end of the last lockout.
The statement is a good two pages long, harkens back to NHL and hockey history, with references to backyard rinks and "legends" and how "The Cup changes everything" and all sorts of themes fit for an advertising campaign. (Granted, that may be because the statement itself was drafted by an advertising agency, according to Gatehouse.)
Apparently after the last lockout tortured fans and brought the entire sport down, the league thought a renewed sense of purpose -- think of the first meaningful crackdown on obstruction as its on-ice expression -- was needed. According to Gatehouse, "the manifesto so pleased Bettman that he ordered up copies to be placed in every NHL rink."
Yet in light of how the league that commissioned it has performed in 2012, the statement is downright hilarious, or perhaps just tragic. It begins:
"We don't own the game of hockey -- we serve it."
In the parlance of our times: Fail. To "serve" is not to shut the sport's highest level down every seven years because you can't, or won't, run a business.
The statement continues:
"We are the proud stewards of a 90 plus year heritage on ice."
Except in lockout years.
And then this:
"This is a league with a respect for the past that propels us into a great future."
The only nod to the past that propels this league is the lessons learned and battles lost in previous games-canceling wars with its players union. That's it. The rest of the nostalgia? Just business and merchandising. Hockey "related" revenue, if you will.
Which brings us to the close of this lofty statement:
"This is the NHL. This is hockey."
Heh, it may be one or it may be the other, but it sure as Bettman's reign isn't both.