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There is usually another guest at the table when Gary Bettman
and his wife Authentic
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, Shelli, go out to dinner with other couples
during the NHL playoffs.

Friends come to accept the glow of the TV screen set up so Bettman can keep
an eye on games, ready to go from enjoying a nice meal to running a
multibillion-dollar business and back again. The commissioner of a storied
league with 24 teams in the United States and seven in Canada doesn’t put work
on hold for life or vice versa. When his 11-year-old grandson, Matthew, wanted
to hang out with him in Tampa during All-Star weekend, he brought him along for
meetings.

”They all blend together because I’m never off,” Bettman said. ”It’s all part
of what I do and who I am.”


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For 25 years, Bettman has overseen the growth of the NHL from $437 million in
annual revenue to nearly $5 billion, guiding the league into and out of work
stoppages and expanding hockey’s reach to places that never seemed a fit for the
fastest game on ice.

The Stanley Cup Final opens Monday in Las Vegas, where Bettman had a guiding
hand in the expansion process that yielded the Golden Knights and led to the
most successful inaugural season in league history. When he was there in
November 2016 for the unveiling of the team name, Bettman was booed by the crowd
and could not have cared less.

”No Abraham
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, no, keep the booing,” he told the crowd. ”That
proves you’re now an NHL city.”

Once perhaps an unlikely leader for a game with its roots north of the
border, the 65-year-old lawyer from Queens who got his start in the NBA has
become one of the most powerful and long-lasting influences in professional
sports. More than two decades into the job, Bettman still feels energized by the
thrill of work – and the sugar supplied by dark chocolate Milky Way candy bars
doesn’t hurt.

He isn’t going anywhere, either.

”I think he’s the best that we could do,” said Jeremy Jacobs, the Boston
Bruins owner and board of governors chairman. ”I mean, there are things that
might irritate you from time to time about him. But you know where his heart and
soul is, he’s always interested in the game, the improvement of the game.”

It hasn’t always been pretty. Bettman has had a role in three
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, the relocation of five franchises, has
repeatedly denied any link between head injuries and the degenerative brain
disease CTE, and recently refused to allow NHL players to go to the Olympics
after doing so five times. Confident in his decisions and willing to accept the
ramifications to his reputation and legacy, Bettman has earned respect –
sometimes begrudged – and made some enemies while serving longer than the other
three major sports commissioners combined.

”He’s a force, so he’s not going to roll over because somebody thinks it’s a
good idea,” said John Collins, a former NHL chief operating officer. ”He’s very
principled and he sticks up for his principles. And those principles could be
business principles or they could be just kind of moral principles and he’ll
fight for that. That’s the way he lives his life, and that’s the way he runs the
league.”

Part of Bettman’s work involves keeping 31 ownership groups and markets on
the same page. Former Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment President and CEO
Richard Peddie said Bettman bringing almost every owner into the league has its
benefits.

”They’re all there because Gary ultimately blessed them, so I think they
always have some kind of IOUs,” Peddie said. ”I don’t mean that in a
disingenuous or unfair way. But he was the gatekeeper, so he has that going for
him.”

Bettman Cheap
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, who was NBA general counsel under
then-Commissioner David Stern and a senior vice president before starting at the
NHL on Feb. 1, 1993, orchestrates things in such a way that there’s rarely
public dissent. Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has watched how Bettman
builds a united front among owners.

”He’ll pre-brief and sell some of the key owners, if you will, and he
backchannels and he’ll literally call and brief every owner personally on a
subject so that when you come to the meeting, you’re briefed, you’ve asked your
questions,” Leonsis said. ”Because he puts in the work and he has the data and
his competence is not questioned in any way and he does have the data, he’s able
to land the planes, if you will, with efficiency.”

Bettman acknowledges some events during his tenure were not of his making. To
this day Authentic
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, he insists moving the Quebec Nordiques to
Colorado and the original Winnipeg Jets to Arizona had to be done, and that the
2004-05 lockout that wiped out an entire season was necessary to ensure the
long-term health of the league.

”There are things I wish might not have happened,” Bettman said. ”Work
stoppages are a good example. The fact is I knew what we needed, and we had to
get it. And if it took a long time to ultimately convince the Players’
Association that this was in everybody’s best interest, I wish it could’ve
happened sooner, but it didn’t.”

There are some in hockey who can’t forgive Bettman for the lockouts, most
recently one in 2012-13. There are others like Peddie who’d rather consider them
part of an entire body of work that includes overseeing expansion into the Sun
Belt.

”It’s putting hockey where it hasn’t traditionally been,” deputy commissioner
Bill Daly said. ”That’s proven successful. … I think his legacy of having
franchises there and putting hockey in nontr. Cheap
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