How Gary Bettman restricts speech through financial intimidation

Jim Balsillie's maverick takeover bid of the Phoenix Coyotes, and the bankruptcy courtroom drama that ensued, has provided an unprecedented glimpse behind the curtain of the NHL and its operations. Like the fact that the Coyotes pulled in $4,473,003 in local broadcasting revenues while spending $9,624,040 on "coaches, equipment, admin., etc."

Recently, Kevin McGran and the Toronto Star brought to light a court filing that revealed the NHL Constitution (.pdf) and the NHL Bylaws (.pdf) (more Bylaws are here in .pdf as well), which cover everything from the relocation of a franchise to ample locker room facilities and police protection for referees.

Scanning through the Bylaws, one regulation consistently appeared in many sections: The ability of the NHL, and specifically the commissioner, to lay the smack down with financial penalties should anyone associated with or employed by the League say the wrong thing.

From the Toronto Star's publication of the Bylaws, a look at what happens when Gary Bettman is feeling "fine."

Starting with 17.16, which is a rather interesting rule in light of the Coyotes/Southern Ontario situation. If you're wondering why many Canadian team officials aren't cheerleading for immediate expansion to Canada, here's why:

You know, a $150,000 fine is a pretty good way to make sure everybody's singing the same tune on expansion ... or not singing at all.

If you thought that fine was hefty, check this out from Bylaw 17.17:

So in discussing the CBA publically, or discussing the inner workings of a BOG meeting, a governor is risking a $250,000 (!) fine. And the vagueness in this entry is startling, isn't it?

Some owner: "The coffee sucked at the BOG as much as the new CBA might."

NHL: "Chaaaaa-ching."

Here's 17.4, part of the NHL's aim to "eliminate all public criticism of officials and officiating," no matter how much Marian Hossa's goal should have counted for the Detroit Red Wings against the Ducks:

Gotta love the loophole near the end that allows club employees the right to shoot on the referees if they're serving as a broadcaster. Clearly, more coaches need to get on the TV payroll so they can speak candidly about how bad the calls are without repercussions.

Moving on, this isn't a speech issue; this is how the NHL ensures that no one's trying to fix a game:

What's interesting about this rule: What if a team in the championship round has some petty issue with one of its star players and decides to sit him; can the NHL step in and trump that team's decision, with the promise of a fine in its hand?

You know, in reading these Bylaws, one might assume that the commissioner has sweeping, arbitrary and draconian powers of punishment when it comes to any member of the League daring to say that something's rotten in Denmark (or Phoenix or Atlanta or ...).

Oh, that's right ... he actually does have sweeping, arbitrary and draconian powers of punishment. From Bylaw 32.1:

Otherwise known as the "making [Gretzky] up as we go along" rule. Infractions in the last 15 years have included:

• $2,000 for being too tall.

• $1,000 for speaking ill of fishing shows and infomercials in front of the president of Versus.

• $2,000 for attempting a heretofore untried "sloppy thirds" joke after an NHL practice.

(All images from the NHL Bylaws published by the Toronto Star's Web site.)

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