Perform a simple Google search for “Gary Bettman” and two of the first three results are for GaryBettmanSucks.com and FireBettman.com.

Interesting sites, indeed, but it makes me wonder just a bit: why is the NHL’s Commissioner so hated by the fans?

Count me among those who hated everything Bettman pre-lockout. But I find it hard to question the man’s dedication to the game following the year without hockey in which he won a tug of war contest with the NHLPA to get a viable economic system, among many other things.

If you ask me, the NHL is in the best shape its been in since the early 1990s, when Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky were in their primes and a young, fresh-faced Czech winger named Jaromir Jagr was taking the league by storm.

The reality is, Bettman may not be the most endearing figure to the fans. He’s not “cool.” He’s not even a hockey guy, really. He came from a background of basketball.

But what he has done for the NHL and hockey in general in the past decade has made the game more exciting to watch for fans of all 30 NHL teams.

  • He’s overseen rule changes to reduce the effectiveness of the trap and other defense-first systems.
  • He’s overseen the implementation of a salary cap structure that has created parity in a league that once saw some teams spend triple what others spent – all while keeping maximum player salaries comparable to what they were pre-lockout and raising minimum player salaries.
  • He’s overseen the Winter Classic, an outdoor game that has grown to become a New Year’s Day staple for NBC.

By my estimation, Bettman’s biggest downfall has been his insistence to reach out to the casual fans, while often insulting the intelligence of the established, die-hard fans.

Hockey in Arizona, Florida, and Atlanta? Bettman’s stubborn approach with these teams, while avoiding possible relocation to hockey-starved Canadian and northern United States markets is a bit baffling.

But call me crazy – isn’t the best way to improve a professional sports league to gain exposure? The more exposure the league gets, the more money it will get, and the more exciting it will become.

So, on some levels, Bettman’s warm-weather markets make sense.

The Dallas Stars were stable for years, until ownership had some issues.

The Tampa Bay Lightning packed the house when they were run by intelligent hockey people.

And the Phoenix Coyotes proved that, no matter the team’s financial situation, fans will show up for a winner.

Maybe he’s taken a less than flattering path to expanding the NHL’s exposure – losing an affiliation with ESPN and replacing it with Versus also comes to mind – but he’s also had to deal with the lockout, which was a PR nightmare that required plenty of damage control.

Now he’s left to clean up a mess primarily caused by greedy players not willing to give up a huge pay check. It’s not an easy task, and there certainly have been and will continually be questionable decision.

But, again, it was the Bettman-led lockout that paved the way for the on-ice product we have today.

So, when Bettman steps on the ice with the most prestigious trophy in all of professional sports and all I hear is fan booing, I feel a little embarrassed.

The man may not be the perfect fit for NHL Commissioner, and he has a long way to go to get the NHL back to the level of the other three primary sports in the United States.

But he has done more for the game in the last five years than most give him credit for.

It’s time to give Bettman some credit and silence the boos – especially when Lord Stanley is in the house.