Once upon a time, in Queens, NY, a little boy was born. He was named Gary Bettman and he grew up to be a very tiny man. One day, after rising to third in command of the National Basketball Association, he received a phone call from the National Hockey League.
"Hello, Gary?" the NHL Board of Governors said.
"Yes, NHL Board of Governors?" Gary said, trying to hide his eagerness. "How can I help you?"
"We have a proposal," the Board of Governors began.
Gary's mind raced. He looked at the phone. Please, please, please be $1 million dollars for one night with my wife... Or at least some legal form of HGH, his mind screamed.
"We'd like to offer you the job of..." here the Board of Governors paused for dramatic effect. "Commissioner of the National Hockey League!"
Gary's tiny face fell while his hairline receded into the Bela Lugosi-era vampire-type widow's peak it is today. He thought for a moment. He realized he hadn't watched a hockey game since he was 9 years old. He quickly thought about the teams. Yep, the Rangers and the Islanders still existed. "Fine," he said, grudgingly. "But I'm only doing this as a favor to you, Board of Governors, so I expect you to follow me everywhere, even if it's down a totally ruinous path."
"Okay!" the Board of Governors enthusiastically agreed.
Gary was appointed Commissioner on 1 February 1993, replacing the comically inept Gil Stein. At the press conference, little Gary said all the right things but in his mind he had a plan: he would make the NHL his own version of the NBA! [cue ominous music]
Our story flashes forward to 2006. Little Gary has been in charge for 13 years and it was good. Revenues were up (well, maybe), teams were successful (except the ones on the verge of bankruptcy), and the Board of Governors loved it (because Gary's a warlock and he cast a spell on them).
Suddenly, Gary's nemesis appeared. His name is Jim Balsillie and he is the co-CEO of Research in Motion. Even worse, he's a rich Canadian who wants nothing more than to own his own NHL team! Gary will have none of that, even after Jim offered $185 million for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Gary decided that Jim must not be happy and smote the deal. Jim, though, was not deterred. In 2007, he offered the sum of $212 million for the Nashville Predators.
Gary was angry. "Why does he vex me so?" he demanded of his minion. (Gary can only afford to hire one minion; hey, it's tough economic times, ok?)
Gary's minion had no answer so Gary reached up to slap him, but missed. Frustrated, he demanded Boots delBiaggio's phone number and offered him the Predators for the sum of $162 million. Boots said he didn't have that money and Gary said it didn't matter. Gary sent his minion to get Boots and return promptly. The minion immediately left Gary's home office on a fourth-hand bicycle built for two.
So, Gary vanquished Jim again. But, like all great evil-doers, Jim retreated to his Waterloo, Ontario-based kingdom only temporarily. In 2009, he roared forth again with his bags of perfectly good money, this time targeting the financially weak Phoenix Coyotes. Jim talked to Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes and they hatched a plan, an end-around, if you will, to outflank Gary and his minion and the still-transfixed Board of Governors. Jerry would declare bankruptcy and Jim would offer his bags of money so the creditors would get paid! How dastardly! How evil! How cunning!
Gary thought he was apopleptic. He looked up apopleptic in the dictionary and decided that, yes, he was apopleptic. He jumped up and down like Rumpelstilskin. He cursed Jim's name and his wildly profitable company and his bags of perfectly good money. Couldn't Jim see the plan? The plan was to put NHL teams where they don't belong! Where there is no interest in hockey! Why is Jim ruining Gary's Ponzi scheme?!?! Gary, once again, tried to slap his minion but, once again, could not reach high enough. That made Gary even more apopleptic.
Gary looked around his home office. He needed a plan. He looked at his Pentium-4 based desktop as it gleefully ran Windows XP SP2. He needed another minion for this. So he called Scott Burnside at ESPN. Gary would not be outsmarted by mega-rich Jim who was dying to own an NHL team and willing to pay a massive premium for it in comically bad economic times! He would not! The NHL is Gary's league and he'll do what he wants with it! He'll even take his league and go home!
Gary needed a plan. This would be his most dastardly plan of all, involving the Board of Governors, bankruptcy court, an eagle feather, three drops of dragon blood, public grandstanding, eye of newt, four werewolf kneecaps, and a new stick of RAM (Windows is running so slow! Gary can't even check his email quickly!).
Stayed for the next installment...