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The NHL keeps showing it doesn't give fans' complaints enough consideration

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman responded to Pat Foley's rant against the 8:42 p.m. start times by saying that the longtime announcer "didn't have his facts straight." Bettman said that Foley was incorrect in saying that everyone, from players to media to fans, hates the late starts and his comments were "off the mark."

Last night's game, which went to double overtime, ended just before 12:30 a.m. CT. For at least two time zones, if you watched the whole thing in its entirety -- or at least tried to catch the end -- you were basically saying goodbye to any shot of a good night's sleep.

Now, there might be a good reason for this. The league has its teams spread across the country and likes to stagger the start times of those games in order to give everyone a chance to watch the conclusion of every game. It's a good idea in theory. And Bettman is right that not everyone hates the late starts. Some people can sleep in, after all.

But only the most hardcore hockey fans and fans of the teams playing are going to watch a playoff game that runs well past midnight on a weekday. And even to those fans, who have complained in droves not only about the start times but about Bettman's response, it's a frustrating compromise at times. Hundreds of thousands of people were tuned in for the CSN Chicago broadcast of Game 5 at midnight, which is fantastic, but that doesn't make it any less irksome when watching the biggest games of the year means not going to bed at a reasonable hour.

This isn't the first time that Bettman has more or less dismissed complaints from fans, and while it's certainly not the biggest issue, it continues that trend.

  • When asked about fans' complaints regarding the shaky rollout of the new NHL.com, Bettman responded that fans just needed to "play with it a little bit."
  • After the closure of Cap Geek, a crucial resource for salary cap information, Bettman said the league wouldn't try to replace it. "I don’t think it’s a resource we need to provide because I’m not sure fans are as focused on what players make as they are about their performance on the ice." There are now several sites running that provide this information because of the massive demand from fans and media alike.
  • Bettman said that people who complain that 3-on-3 overtime isn't real hockey should "shut up."

Not every complaint made by fans is legitimate. Personally, I happen to enjoy 3-on-3 overtime, too. But the way that the commissioner of the NHL has repeatedly responded to public outcry, not only in the above instances but many others, sometimes involving more serious subjects, shows a pattern of dismissing or ignoring complaints even when they appear to have significant backing. It's almost become cliche to call the NHL tone deaf, and nothing Bettman said Friday by going after Foley changes that perception.

The late start times aren't even the biggest issue here. The NHL has legitimate challenges in crafting a playoff schedule that appeases everyone and they've chosen late start times for several Blackhawks-Blues games as one solution to that. If the games don't go to double overtime, they don't run so late (although the games that run late are the ones you can't miss out on). Maybe it would be less bothersome to everyone if all the late starts didn't seem to happen to the same teams, even if there are geographic reasons for it.

The real problem here is the way the NHL seems to brush aside certain complaints even when they deserve to be taken seriously. Fans complaining about late starts have legitimate reasons to do so, and even if that's just the reality of the schedule, responding by saying that actually not everyone hates the late starts and we're cool with it is just disingenuous. We don't expect the league to fix this overnight, but you can at least acknowledge it's not perfect and hear out the fact that a lot of people don't like the current set-up. Instead, we get talk about how great NHL.com is and stuff like this. At least deputy commissioner Bill Daly recognized the problem.

As a fan from the Midwest, should I just expect to have to stay up super late every single time a good NHL playoff time in that region goes to OT? Bettman gave the signal today that apparently most people don't care. Maybe that's true, but it's not the sense I've gotten.