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Gary Bettman Translation Machine, Fully Operational

Gary Bettman is not stupid. He may be obstinate, and he may refuse to admit mistakes, but you don't get to that position and keep it for so long without knowing a thing or two about how wheels turn, and a thing or five about how to give your bosses -- all 30 of them -- what they want.

Yet best I can tell, I'm in a minority among NHL fans in that I don't wake up each day stabbing my Bettman voodoo doll. It's not that I'm thrilled with his decisions, it's that I know he represents the head of a multi-party, multi-billionaire body. If it weren't Bettman, it'd be some other circular talking suit trying to balance the competing interests of the NHL owners while also keeping them on the same page. I'm pretty sure I'd be angry with the moves of any guy in this office. If you think the owners would easily hire an upgrade, you didn't live through John Ziegler or "Hall of Famer" Gil Stein.

Psst. It's the owners, man. NHL owners are pushers. They are trying to get us addicted to their product and steadily charge more for it as they add new addicts demand. This is why I really don't mind that the NHL isn't as popular as the other "Big Four" U.S. sports; that would only be bad for my wallet. My ideal is an NHL that is popular enough to be accessible, but not so popular that it can be a bully like the NFL or blanket sports talk radio with idiots like every other sport does.

That said, I've no love lost for the way the guy comes off. Sometimes he can't help it -- he's inherently in a PR role, which is to say a big part of his job is to use corporate double-speak to put lipstick on every pig in the room, be it a charming prize-winning pig or a pig headed to the slaughterhouse. And sometimes his obfuscating answers are so surreal, they demand mocking, which is fun. That's why we have a translation machine for Gary Bettman-speak...

But first, two more morsels for thought to remind you that in your alternate universe where Bettman never came around, the grass would not necessarily be much greener:

"Bettman" is Shorthand for "Things I Don't Like about the Game"

"Bettman's trying to eliminate fighting..."

Ha, sorry kid. The NHL has been trying to curb fighting since the early 1980s, and it reached a fever pitch before Bettman entered office. Dig up any fighting article from the late '80s and hear former president John Ziegler and various GMs at wit's end trying to curb the violence that didn't play so well on casual observers' TV. The role of the NHL head on this issue is always to act shocked, shocked by gruesome fights, while casually insisting it's an important part of the game. The fear here has always been that rampant fighting limited the league's audience.

Which brings us to...

"Bettman is so determined to prove his SunBelt dream can work..."

Oh it was Bettman's dream, was it? Nope. Sorry johnny-come-lately, but you've missed out on NHL history.

Sure, GB was hired to execute a long-existing expansion vision -- but that's a vision the NHL has desired since 1967 and has chased in every decade since. The idea that Population Trends Move South and West = We Need to Be Where the People Will Be is as old as a franchise known as the Los Angeles Kings. The desire for the NHL to have a national footprint attractive enough to draw U.S. TV audiences is as old as something called the Oakland (California Golden) Seals.

The irony is that actually seeing out this plan requires a multi-generational commitment to growing the game in those markets (see Dallas, California) -- and that's a long-term view that few NHL owners have the longevity to see through.

"Bettman's OT bonus point scheme is a joke..."

Actually ... well, that's 100% true. It's asinine. (Though I don't know if even that was his baby.)

Are games worth two points or three? Is a game decided by goals or by a 1-on-1 trickshot drill with no defensemen and no backcheckers? What is a "loss?" What is "hockey" again?

This PR Machine is Fully Operational, Mildly Translatable

So anyway, now that I've made those nuanced points, we can get to the smug, talk-a-lot but-say-nothing style he uses, which irks so many. What follows is a translation of his recent Q&A with the Los Angeles Times. [Note: These are excerpts for satirical purposes; the full interview is at]

If you can put on your cynical PR observer's hat for a moment, his lawyer-ese language is actually a stunning sight to behold:

Question: Having the Kings in the playoffs after a long absence, having the L.A. market involved, what are your thoughts?

Bettman: "It's always good for the fans of a team. Any team. It's always good for any organization to overcome the long droughts when a team hasn't been as successful as everyone would have hoped."

Translation: "It is my job to be happy for any team's success, like a parent who never chooses sides. Something good happen somewhere? 'It's always good.'  But yes, I do get special satisfaction whenever a franchise who jingoists in the Canadian media rip to draw cheap clicks becomes vibrant again. It makes me a happy penguin."


Bettman: "It's a coincidence. It's good to be here. We've been planning [the 2010 draft], as have the Kings, for a while, but we know that this is a market that will support hockey. We had a terrific All-Star Game here in 2002, when things were not as exciting as they are today. But you always have to look at these things for the long term."

Translation: "It's totally a coincidence the draft is in L.A. Never mind that with all of last summer's sideshow, we really really really wanted to prove a point to Balsillie by holding it in Phoenix. But as that ownership quagmire lingered into the winter, it became too much of a reach for even us "this-pig-smells-like-a-rose" types in the NHL office to hold the draft in a city that might not have a team anymore.

"And yet, league movers and shakers still wanted to be able to play golf, so L.A. it is. Did I mention the awards show will be in Vegas? Vegas, baby!"


Q. I think that perception [that Kings owner Phil Anschutz is cold and distant] is fed by his choice to not be in the public.

Bettman: "But he's like that in all of his endeavors. It's no different than any of the multitude of businesses that he owns. This is the way that he chooses to conduct himself, but I think ultimately he should be judged by the fact that he has always stood behind this team. And believe me, because over the years I've seen firsthand how he feels. He does not like losing."

Q. Can you give an example of conversations that you might have had with him, issues important to him?

Bettman: "It's more that I know it pains him when the team isn't successful."

Translation: "Crap, did I almost give you something worth knowing? Strike that from the record immediately.

"And to answer your question: No, I cannot give you any examples of the claim I just made, other than to say Anschutz's CPU is a neuronet processor, a learning computer. Which is true. I even saw him smile once.

"But elaboration on a claim? That's not how we roll. Generally, the drill goes like this: I declare, you repeat. Next question."


Q: If you can just update a little bit on where that [Coyotes] situation stands.

Bettman: "...The process still has work that remains to be done. We remain optimistic that everybody's going to do what they need to do, and it's nice to see that the team has had success because it's demonstrating, among other things, that people in the Valley of the Sun, will support a team that has credibility on the ice. And that people know how to get to Westgate.

"Hopefully it will all come together. We've put a lot of effort into stabilizing the team and doing what needed to be done last year. And hopefully the things that will need to get done in order to finalize all the arrangements that are necessary for the team will hopefully get done in the not too distant future."

Translation: "It's nice to know Coyotes fans remember how to get to the arena we went through so many hoops to get Glendale to build. But mostly the situation stands on hope. As in: Do you know how much of my bosses' money I gambled on this situation? I sure hope it works out."


Q. Is there an ownership issue as well in Dallas, with Tom Hicks?

Bettman: "I think first and foremost it's been very public that Tom Hicks has been in a process to sell the [Texas] Rangers. I think it's just been announced that there's a process to sell Liverpool. And he's made no secret that he's looking at his options with respect to the Stars. I believe there are a lot of people who, if the team is ultimately to be sold, would be interested in buying the Stars."

Translation: "First and foremost, I think it's very important that everyone understand I can take 75 words to say, 'Yes, Hicks is screwed,' and I don't mind doing it over and over until you move on to a new topic. One way I like to do that is by using 'with respect to' as its own relative pronoun. It creates a lovely distance between anything I say and ... what was the topic again?"


Q. They're going through a down time competitively, but in terms of people supporting them, are they OK over the long term?

Bettman: "I think the issues are less about the Stars than a more general issue with respect to Tom's relationship to his banks. The team is doing OK. That team is not a concern."

Translation: "With respect to that statement that you just made that ended in a question, I'm not sure I, generally speaking, want to answer. But if you're worried about something, let me assure you that, with respect to the NHL, categorically it's not a concern, because the NHL is strong and getting stronger."


Q. Looking at the playoffs so far, so many games have been so close and so competitive. Home ice has not really been that huge an advantage. Is this ultimately what you envisioned in terms of parity and competitiveness?

Bettman: "First and foremost, blah blah blah ... words ... blah blah ... words ... officiating, rules, salary cap ... words."

Translation: "Did you just serve me a softball to talk about how great our game is under the new CBA? Hang on, I have some talking points on this legal pad I'm due to regurgitate..."


Q. You got a pretty good bounce coming out of the Olympics in terms of TV and other measurable factors. Is that accurate?

Bettman: "In a difficult climate our business has been pretty strong this year. I don't know that you can quite yet measure the impact of the Olympics. To me the Olympics is more about the kids who watched the gold medal game and decided they want to play hockey, not unlike what we saw from '80 and that's a longer-term thing. But the metrics surrounding our business have been strong this season but they've been strong for the last four seasons as well."

Translation: "Yeah, this isn't my first interview, cowboy. I see how you just buttered me up with the softball and then tried to trap me into saying the Olympics are good for the NHL. Since I'm not going to do that without you forcing a few more Jager-bombs down my gullet, allow me to take this moment to tell you how every season since the lockout has been strong."


Q. Do you envision revenues staying stable?

Bettman: "We don't have final accounting yet. Last year, the first part of the recession, we were up about 5% when we had, before the recession started, projected 7%. So we saw a little bit of an impact. I think we're either going to be flat or up or down a percent or two, which is basically flat. In this environment this is pretty good, and relative to the other sports I understand that's very good."

Translation: "Anything I say can and will be used against me in a court of CBA negotiations or public my accountants will get back to you on that right about oh ... how does right about the time you're focused on the draft sound?"


Q. In terms of labor relations with the players' association, everybody looks at what's going on over on their side, and that's their business but what kind of relationship do you have right now with the PA [player's association]?

Bettman: "There's really nobody who's dealing with us on a day-to-day basis. They have some staff that are attending to things that need to be attended to, but in terms of the initiatives and major things that we might want to do, there's really little structure for us to do it with, so we, like everybody else, are looking forward to a time where there will be a strong, stable union that can be a partner to work with us in growing the business."

Translation: "First and foremost, Bob Goodenow molests collies. I just like to say that, because I'm here and he's not.

"But with respect to your question: Did I mention we kicked their butt in the last CBA, yet revenues are still growing and players are still making gobs of money? I don't know about you, but that tells me we don't need a union. I tell Shanahan that every day."


Q. Getting the headshots rule put in was fairly significant and it has the potential to change.

Bettman: "I think it was important. 'Significant' makes it sound like it was out of the blue. I think it was more evolutionary.... words words blah blah words..."

Translation: "We are always in full control, with absolute foresight and brilliant planning. So I take issue with your use of the word 'significant,' as that somehow implies that we are fallible.  ... Did I mention I'm a lawyer? I could do this all day."


Q. How long do you envision yourself remaining in this job?

Bettman: "It's not something I think about. I do it because I love doing it. I find it stimulating and challenging and I've been doing it now for more than 17 years. I've never thought about it and I don't. I can't even tell you when my contract expires because it's not something I focus on."


"MwaaaaHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I am never leaving."


Q. You mentioned the referees. We've seen so many veteran referees forced, required, obligated to retire because of age.

Bettman: "It's not because of age. It's because their ability to perform physically is not what it was."

Translation: "It's not because of age. It's because of all of the physical and mental conditions that we associate with getting old, which is in no way anything related to age."


Q. You lost Kerry Fraser, Don Koharski, a lot of people with experience and authority.

Bettman: "Yes, but at some point your experience and authority doesn't overcome some of the limitations that overcome you. Nobody can perform on the ice forever. The same thing happens to players. At some point, no matter how big a star you were, how great a leader you were, the fact is at some point you can't do what you used to be able to do."

Translation: {spits out Jager-bomb} "I'm sorry ... I may have misheard you. Did you just hold up Fraser and Koharski as gold standards? Do you guys really watch hockey here in L.A., or do you just go to see if Jack Nicholson shows up?

"Oh wait ... never mind, I remember."


Q. Gordie Howe didn't think so.

Bettman: "Gordie Howe in his 50s wasn't Gordie Howe in his 20s and 30s. It's not about age. It's about performance."

Translation: "Stop trying to dupe me into an age discrimination lawsuit or I'll revoke your credentials and move your team to Quebec. Don't act like I can't, either. I defeated the most obnoxious billionaire in Canada, I can surely handle some reporter."