The ideas have taken a few days to take root, but that’s because so many thoughts came to mind when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was introduced at the J.L. Grightmire Arena in Dundas Tuesday night before the Kraft Hockeyville game between the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres.
To a chorus of boos, of course.
Why does Bettman insist on putting himself through the humiliation of hearing the catcalls? He heard them on the biggest stage when he presented the Chicago Blackhawks with the Stanley Cup in June. Tuesday he heard them at the 1,200-seat venue, which was full of children.
We understand why Bettman needed to be in the building on both occasions.
Obviously, he needs to be in the house when the league’s champions are crowned.
In the Dundas instance, he wanted to show he believes in the grassroots of hockey. We get that. Not to be overly cynical about it, it was also an opportunity for TV time.
Yet in hindsight, does it really help the image of the NHL — and the future of the NHL — when the guy running the league is being booed in front of several hundred children? Why bring on the hatred by taking centre stage at centre ice?
Surely, Bettman couldn’t have imagined the crowd was going to seranade him. Remember, Dundas is only a long slapshot away from the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, the place where the NHL commissioner so steadfastly refused to consider as a landing spot for the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes franchise last year.
Dundas is, in fact, now part of the amalgamated city of Hamilton. (We can imagine Bettman was jumping for joy when a community connected to Hamilton won the rights to the game over every other Canadian possibility).
The Dundas-Phoenix-Bettman connection also serves to highlight the raw joy children feel for the game and the uglier big business side of the sport. There was such a passionate fan base in Dundas that hundreds of fans lined up outside the arena in the pouring rain — the children played hooky to watch hockey, with the support of their parents — waiting for the arrival of the Sabres early Tuesday.
Meanwhile, as much as Bettman tries to convince the hockey world that the NHL can survive in Phoenix, save the franchise rallies in the desert sun have drawn smaller crowds than the one which stood in the rain to catch a glimpse of the mediocre pre-season lineups.
Can it really still be a surprise that another NHL season is about to begin without any concrete developments in the pursuit of new ownership in Phoenix?
Oh, and speaking of another unfulfilled passionate NHL hockey audience, 50,000 fans are expected to show up on the Plains of Abraham Saturday for a rally to support the return of a team to Quebec City.
Hockey in the South versus hockey in the North. The more things change, the more they stay the same.