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The interminable Mr. Bettman

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Roughly 90 percent of the NHL's problems can be traced to one brutally dumb decision -- the appointment of Gary Bettman as Commissioner -- a blunder guaranteed to cause maximum damage when Mr. Bettman was subsequently awarded what amounts to a lifetime contract.

Clark
Booth

In all the games played for our savage amusement the seasons are too long and grueling. But in no other is that more the case than where hockey is purportedly played best. That's no surprise. In contemporary times, incompetence and folly have been routinely the specialty of the National Hockey League.

Roughly 90 percent of the NHL's problems can be traced to one brutally dumb decision -- the appointment of Gary Bettman as Commissioner -- a blunder guaranteed to cause maximum damage when Mr. Bettman was subsequently awarded what amounts to a lifetime contract.

No sporting czar -- now or ever -- has known less about the game he rules than Mr. Bettman, a Manhattan lawyer's lawyer trained in the game of basketball who, to the best of my knowledge, has never admitted to having actually attended a hockey game before becoming the game's supreme overlord. You think Roger Goodell is a clown, old Sport? Bettman makes the clumsy NFL czar look like another Pop Warner. You have to go back to Bill Eckert, Baseball's unknown General, to find a Commissioner of anything more inept.

But we digress. The point of this being that we are down to crunch time in the running of the eight-month gauntlet that composes the NHL's regular season and your Bruins are -- painfully, as has become customary -- scrapping desperately in a pack of about eight other also-rans for one of the last seats at the playoff banquet. At best they are life and death, game to game, and less than even money to survive. But then we are getting used to that, are we not.

As of the writing, the Bruins have four weeks and 14 games to go with the last and longest of the season's road-trips to the league's remotest outposts about to begin. In a demand only the NHL would dare make of its chattel they'll play the five arguably most important games of their season in nine nights in five cities including a pair of back to back dates against Canadian foes in towns 400 and 800 miles apart, respectively, while traveling a grand total of about 8,000 miles in still, what's at least in Canada, the dead of winter. It's a bloody tough game to have five huge tilts in nine nights let alone in such circumstances as these.

This is the NHL according to Gary Bettman. Preposterous scheduling with the grossly unfair burden it randomly imposes on teams is unavoidable in the league as it's now configured. The NHL far and away covers the most turf and with the demand that all teams meet at least twice (another concession to weak franchises) such idiotic road-trips as the one the Bruins now face are inescapable. Unfortunately for them, the timing is horrendous.

Reckless expansion, reaping nifty short-term profits for the owners and thereby furiously orchestrated by Bettman, is the main culprit. The league, which should have no more than 24 teams, will soon bulge to 32 of them, with five in the old Confederacy and two more in the desert. Where Mr. Bettman loves to send hockey they have no more tradition for the game than they have for hurling, curling, or cricket. It then becomes incumbent on the rest of the league to carry the deadbeats.

Number 31 soon rises from the hot sands of Las Vegas in defiance of the conventional Pro-Sport wisdom that Vegas is the last town that should get any pro-sport franchise under any circumstances. Period! Thanks, Gary!

Harping about their present ordeal may seem a dandy way of offering the Bruins a fine excuse should they now again flop, missing the post-season the third year in a row. Not that they need much of an excuse, mind you, with many of we alleged savants having long given up on them. Nor will it be dismissed that hardly a month ago your host unequivocally proclaimed the callous canning of Claude Julien to be the final straw.

Well, M. Julien has survived quite nicely, thank you very much, and so -- thanks to the improbable debut of Bruce Cassidy -- have the Bruins. All of which is a Godsend for Don Sweeney.

New Coach Cassidy's adroit handling of his first month has called the dogs off the embattled GM's case just when they were nipping at his heels, with confidence in his long-term viability bottoming-out. Should his Bruins make the playoffs, Cassidy will have given Sweeney a year's reprise which may even be time enough for the GM's much-prized prospects to begin coming of age. And it's in those kids -- scouted and drafted under Sweeney's watch -- that the Bruins long-term hopes are most vested.

So there's a lot at stake in the waning days of another long and grueling regular-season. Six teams vie for the last two seats at the table, but with only one having to slog through the Canadian Rockies to get there. We make no predictions in this space, but do not count me as optimistic.

Clark Booth is a renowned Boston sports writer and broadcast journalist. He spent much of his long career at Bostonís WCVB-TV Chanel 5 as a correspondent specializing in sports, religion, politics and international affairs.

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