A neighbour once asked me why on Earth we always put NHL commissioner Gary Bettman No. 1 on our People of Power and Influence list - he gets booed everywhere he goes, yet fans fork out big cash to watch Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin and they’re further down the list.
Because, my friend, it’s all about the power of control, clout in the boardrooms, influence with the owners. Bettman has it and, quite simply, the players don’t.
It’s been 12 years since we first put out our annual 100 People of Power and Influence issue and the questions keep coming in. No one buys tickets to see Bettman talk. It’s the players they come to see.
Indeed, Bettman did rank No. 1 in the first eight years of PoP and nine times in 12 years. His position as commissioner and his grasp on the tasks at hand made those decisions indisputable in our opinion.
Crosby is the only player to have finished No. 1 on our list and that was at the height of Crosby-mania, 2008 and 2009. TV ratings soared when he appeared and the league promoted him endlessly. Ovechkin was an excellent candidate for top spot the past several years as well, but while his skills are supreme, his marketability off the ice isn’t as squeaky clean as Crosby’s.
Our PoP research panel this year decided to anoint NHL Players’ Association executive director Donald Fehr to the No. 1 power and influence position because effectively he has, right now, the unconditional support of the 700-plus players in the league. Bettman, still holder of the most powerful job in the NHL, has support from team owners and governors, but it may not be 100 percent and probably isn’t unconditional. He’s No. 2, followed by his deputy, Bill Daly, at No. 3.
A couple of players come in at No. 4 and 6. True, they are the biggest stars in the game. But that power goes only so far when there’s so much stickhandling going on in the boardrooms of hockey.
Seventeen NHL players made it to this year’s PoP list of influential people in the game. Here’s a look at why.
4. Sidney Crosby – Easily the game’s best player now.
6. Alex Ovechkin – The game’s most dynamic personality.
19. Jonathan Toews – A fabulous year in 2010 and a true leader.
27. Matt Cooke – Hit on Marc Savard triggered the head-shot rule.
37. Steven Stamkos – Fitness freak now No. 5 among players.
49. Ilya Kovalchuk – Off-season saga led to changes in salary breakdown and contract length rules.
50. Tomas Vokoun – Will be popular at NHL trade deadline.
52. Zach Parise – Top RFA on summer market will command interest.
58. John Tavares – Future star a year behind Stamkos.
63. Nicklas Lidstrom – Most respected player still dominant.
72. Dion Phaneuf – New Toronto leader not living up to billing.
77. Jarome Iginla – Plenty of interest in star bound to be traded.
78. Ryan Miller – Top goalie in the league and well-spoken on competition committee.
79. Jaroslav Halak – Took league by storm last year, then was traded.
85. Patrick Kane – U.S.-born star a fresh young face of the game in the United States.
91. Drew Doughty – A defensive dynamo for years to come.
100. Paul Bissonnette – Social media star on Twitter.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com with his blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.