The fans demanded it. They clamored. They staged sit-ins and letter-writing campaigns. Politicians on both sides of the border exerted influence behind closed doors. The world's voices, outraged and shrieking, could not be ignored any longer. This wrong would be righted. A light would be shined on this decades-long act of ignorance. This paragon of hockey virtue would finally have his day.
That's right—Gary Bettman was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Tuesday as a builder, as he accomplished things no one else could have, elevating hockey during his quarter-century as commissioner to the sixth-most popular sport in America.
Bettman—and this can't be argued—is the greatest commissioner in NHL history. He is the only commissioner to oversee three lockouts and has already begun preparing for a fourth in the coming years. Regular lockouts are essential in maintaining a league's popularity and fostering growth, something other sports leagues still haven't figured out. Bettman blazed a trail in 2004-05 by becoming the first commissioner of a league to have a full-season cancellation.
The NHL's revenues rising from $400 million to a record $4.5 billion would not be possible without Bettman, as no other NHL commissioner would have ever thought to air games on TV when television networks were paying record amounts of money for those rights. Bettman also invented the internet, allowing the NHL to stream games online, something no other sports league has ever done.
And to give exclusive broadcast rights coming out of the season-long lockout to NBC and the Outdoor Life Network and shedding ties with ESPN? It's that type of forward thinking that gets you into the Hall of Fame.
Another thing no one would have ever thought to do other than Bettman? Expansion. Adding new teams to a sports league? Had any other league thought to do that before Bettman took the job in 1993? Bettman has added seven new teams since taking the job, and all seven have flourished. These teams in non-traditional markets haven't needed the NHL's help to remain financially viable or to be relocated.
You may call allowing a broke John Spano to purchase the New York Islanders in 1997 "dropping the ball in embarrassing fashion" but the ESPN 30-for-30 documentary about the incident is the best thing to come from the Islanders in 20 years, so place another feather in Bettman's cap.
And when it comes to concussions, it's fair to say Bettman stands alone.
While the NFL has admitted a connection between brain injuries and CTE and settled the lawsuit, Bettman denies that link exists and continues to fight the concussion lawsuit facing the NHL. That's leadership. That's advancing the game. That's staring at the autopsy results of dead NHL players and saying that doesn't prove anything, so take your fancy science talk to someone who cares, you fucking idiot.
And thank you to the selection committee for making this happen now in 2018 while Bettman is still on the job. Bettman and his work as commissioner were too important. He earned this by being the first to ever do it. Making him wait would have been tantamount to a slap in the face.
Also: Congratulations to fellow 2018 inductee Willie O'Ree, the first black player in NHL history, who got the call from the committee 57 years after he retired.