“We have a trade to announce.”
Those six words have to rank among hockey fans’ favorite phrases. And ironically, that’s especially true when they’re spoken by one of the sport’s most unpopular figures: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
That’s because “We have a trade to announce” has become Bettman’s go-to catchphrase when a deal is struck during the NHL draft; they’re the words he uses to inform fans that they’re going to want to stop booing him long enough for him to break down the details. Sometimes the deal that follows is a blockbuster; sometimes it’s just a boring flip of draft picks. But you never know until Bettman lays out the details, piece by piece, into a live microphone in front of a few thousand fans.
And make no mistake, Bettman seems to relish the moment. This is a guy, after all, who spends pretty much all of his time getting pelted with hockey-fan venom. Whether he’s introducing the draft or giving a press conference or handing out the Stanley Cup, he’s basically on the receiving end of a nonstop barrage of negativity. Why wouldn’t he savor the one opportunity to soak in some good vibes?
This year will mark Bettman’s 22nd draft as NHL commissioner, and with trade speculation hitting overdrive in the days leading up to the first round, there’s an excellent chance we’ll get to hear him announce a deal or two Friday night. Let’s hope so, because Bettman’s trade announcements double as a teachable moment for hockey fans and, indeed, for human beings everywhere.
So in anticipation of that moment, let’s look back through history at the life lessons we could all learn from Bettman’s announcements of different kinds of trades over the years.
The trade: At the 2012 draft, the Penguins sent Jordan Staal to the Hurricanes for Brandon Sutter, prospect Brian Dumoulin, and a first-round pick. This was a major deal that had been rumored for days, and as an added bonus that year’s draft was being held in Pittsburgh.
The announcement: If I had to pick one draft-floor deal as the archetypal Bettman announcement, this is the one I’d go with. It basically has it all:
• The “We have a trade to announce” intro, followed by the requisite excited crowd reaction.
• An added nudge to the local fans to pay attention, since it involves their favorite team. (Seriously, look how proud of himself Bettman is after he throws that in. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him that happy.)
• The pauses between names that are just long enough to let the crowd react, but not so long that the whole thing feels overly dramatic.
• At least one awkward moment. In this case, it comes after Bettman announces the first-round pick and Sutter, then drops an exaggerated “AND” like he’s a parent reading Fox in Socks to a toddler. This whips the crowd into a frenzy, at which point Bettman reads off the name of a prospect that none of them have ever heard of.
• The immediate repeating of the details, which nobody ever listens to. I’d love to see him change the names on us some time, just to see what would happen.
• All the classic Bettman mannerisms you’ve come to know and love: the head shake, the eyebrow flexes, the random finger points.
Seriously, this whole sequence was pretty much perfection. He knocked it out of the park.
The life lesson: There’s no substitute for experience. Once you close in on 20 years of doing something, you should expect to be pretty darn good at it.