Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Alanah McGinley on 05/24/08 at 07:54 PM ET
From Mike Householder of the AP via Yahoo!
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said every team in the league will play all the others at least once next season.
The announcement came Saturday before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals between Pittsburgh and Detroit, two teams that did not meet this regular season.
Bettman also used his annual pre-Cup news conference to say the size of goaltenders’ equipment will be analyzed in the offseason.
A complete transcript of Bettman’s remarks should be made available on this post shortly.
Update 8:27pm ET: Complete transcript now available below, of the commissioner’s opening remarks as well as the question & answer session which followed.
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: Good afternoon. Welcome to the Stanley Cup Final. I would like to note, that like yesterday’s NHL Live session, this session is being carried by the NHL Network. And welcome to all of our viewers.
Let me begin by congratulating our finalists, the Red Wings and Mike and Marian Ilitch, have had a fair amount of experience hosting this event. Ken Holland and his staff have done an outstanding job of both building and rebuilding the Red Wings. Congratulations to Coach Babcock, the players and all of the Red Wings’ fans.
Congratulations, also, to Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux on behalf of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ray Shero, Coach Therrien, the Penguins’ players and all of the Penguins’ fans as well. The Penguins’ journey over the last few years has been well chronicled, and it’s nice to see the Penguins here and healthy and happy in Pittsburgh where they belong.
We have two highly skilled, powerhouse teams. And I think we’re all looking forward to what should be an outstanding series. It has been quite a year for us since the last Stanley Cup Final, we’ve had the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks open their regular seasons in Europe. We had the Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres at the Winter Classic in Buffalo. The NHL store, powered by Reebok, opened in New York and has become a destination for fans, tourists, team personnel, players, and it’s a lot of fun.
The NHL Network made its debut in the United States, giving our fans the comprehensive coverage of our game that they deserve. We also launched the NHL Network online. It’s our broadband programming with seven channels of content, which has been overwhelmingly well received.
XM Radio became our exclusive satellite radio distributor, and they’ve intensified their coverage with 24/7 NHL programming and our feedback from our listeners has been terrific.
We would be remiss if we didn’t once again thank our fans. We reached 21 million in attendance for the regular season for the first time ever. We averaged over 17,000 fans per game for the first time ever. And our fans, we believe, were treated to an exciting, entertaining and competitive regular season from Game No. 1 to Game 1,230. The regular season was incredibly competitive. It went down to the last day of the season to see how the playoffs were going to play out. And every game mattered. And that’s the way we think it should be.
Revenues will exceed $2.5 billion this year. That, too, is a record. Our franchises are more stable than ever. And the relationship that we have with Paul Kelly and the Players’ Association continues to grow, and it gives me hope for the future. With cooperation, I know we can explore many more upsides that are available for us to, together, grow this game.
We’ve done more player marketing this season than ever. And we look forward to doing a lot more. We’re going to have a busy summer. We’re going to take a long, good look at goaltending equipment. There’s a committee that’s been formed jointly with the Players’ Association to do that. The Competition Committee will meet shortly after the Goaltender Committee meets and the Competition Committee will continue its work on monitoring the game.
We’re going to, shortly, I’m not going to announce it today, make a decision on Winter Classic II in terms of the venue and the teams involved. We have a new scheduling matrix for the ‘08/‘09 season so every team will play every other team at least once.
We’re looking forward to opening the season with the next phase of premier games in Europe in Prague and Stockholm. And we’re eagerly anticipating joining our friends in Montreal celebrating the Montreal Canadiens Centennial, which will include the All-Star game.
If I had to sum it up briefly, I think we’re in a good place, and there’s a lot going on, and there’s always more to do. We’re looking forward to a fun and entertaining Final. And I’m looking forward to taking your questions.
Questions for the Commissioner
Q. At this point in time, often times television ratings come up in this session. I understand they’re positive this year. But how does the League measure kind of the unprecedented access that hockey fans have across the world through all the new technology?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: That’s an interesting and intriguing question. Obviously with respect to ratings we look for continued growth in traditional media. I think all sports, particularly us, tend to get measured too much solely by that metric and not the other things, including access to new media.
I think it is worth noting that our ratings on VERSUS have increased so much, and that we’re actually - we’ve seen it in playoffs, that we’re exceeding what we were doing with the ESPN networks before the work stoppage. I think for us, measuring that, it goes to seeing that the traction that we anticipated would come over time is coming.
With respect to the so-called new media or the digital media, that’s the reason we have the NHL Network, which is now, I think, in about 15 million homes. And we think that we could double our subscribers in the next year. And it is available to over 80 million homes, for those people that want to subscribe to it.
NHL.com has seen massive double-digit growth. I think for the last month our unique visitors were up over 40 percent, and we had over 12 million uniques in April, which is a testament to the increased use of video and the creative and sophisticated use technology-wise that we’re using the website for.
What it means is our fans, and probably the fans of all sports, are seeking to get content of what they want on their own terms. And, therefore, we need to make sure that there’s access to our game the way our fans want it when they want it, how they want it, which is why NHL.com is so important, which is why the NHL Network is so important, and which is why XM 204 is so important, because you can get all the hockey you want whenever you want it.
Q. Secondly, just in regards to starting the season for the second consecutive year in Europe, I understand it’s about growing the game, but is there somewhat of a moral obligation that the National Hockey League feels because half of our players practically are from Europe and there’s no immediate plans to expand to Europe?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: Well, I think you answered the question. But I’ll tweak it a little bit. It’s about 30 percent of our players that come from outside of North America. And the world’s best players, whether or not they’re from Canada, the United States or the rest of the world, come to play in the NHL.
And we are using the games as yet another large event to create interest in the game, particularly in places where we know there’s interest in the players from those countries who play in our game to see the real product, not exhibition games.
I think the markets where we’re playing are too sophisticated for us to play meaningful exhibition games. I think we need to give them the real thing. And based on the experience we had last year with the Ducks and Kings, we think logistically we can do it because we know those games count. And as you remember from the playoff races, every point matters.
Q. Gary, you mentioned the incredible turnaround with the Penguins franchise over the past couple of years. Can you tell us if you think that sale to Jim Balsillie had gone through, would the Penguins have moved, and how involved was the NHL in making sure that did not happen?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: I cannot speculate, and it would be presumptuous for me to speculate on what Mr. Balsillie’s motives were, but I think as everybody knows, we were intent upon keeping the Penguins in Pittsburgh and doing everything possible to get them into a building, because they needed a new building in order to stay because the team is not viable long-term in Mellon, or as I like to affectionately continue to call it, The Igloo.
Q. Maybe you can tell us how this year’s goalie committee is going to succeed where the last - so many efforts have had very little effect.
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: I think there are two reasons that this committee should be more effective. One, the Players’ Association is now more focused than it’s been for the last couple of years on doing business, because there’s actually somebody in charge who is re-engaging the players and making the association or attempting to make the association a more effective voice, so that when we were dealing with a caretaker situation, it was hard to get things done.
And while I suppose Paul is still going through a bit of a learning curve, I’m optimistic about our ability to do more things together.
So the way the Players’ Association is focused and the composition of the committee, this is a committee where we’ve appointed former players who happen to be general managers, and we’ve got shooters and goalers, and the Players’ Association has shooters and goalers.
And so when you’re looking at the way we’re set up and you’re looking at the overall infrastructure, I think this is going to be the best attempt that can be made to deal with goaltender equipment.
And if the committee is unsuccessful, then we’ll have to go to plan B, which I don’t know what it is yet. But there will be one (smiling).
Q. Are you chagrinned or bothered by the fact that the Pistons and Celtics are going head-to-head against you both nights here and could you have gotten together with David Stern and done anything about it?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: What’s interesting about that question is, and as I’ve watched the commentary on the subject, everybody seems to be focused on us. And I think that’s a little unrealistic and a little unfair. Not without noticing the Tigers are playing tonight. There’s, what do they call it, a techno rock concert. I don’t know exactly what that is, but it’s next door. I assume there will be thousands of people there.
And we, and I assume the NBA, made commitments in terms of scheduling so the networks that we’re on - and we’re on multiples in more than one language - to structure how they’re going to be programmed. Networks just can’t gut their programming schedules overnight.
Interestingly enough, we have priority because we’re in the Final. And so if both teams happen to occupy either this building or the Palace, we’d be playing and the Pistons wouldn’t be.
What I think is going on - and I’m not privy to the NBA’s contractual arrangements, but I’m going to make an educated guess. TNT and ESPN, or ABC, one in the same for this purpose, schedule themselves out and they have programming, alternate programming on some nights, and then they schedule the NBA on others.
I also think, and I think I read this somewhere, that those two networks alternate who has the East and who has the West. We’re up against the NBA conference finals no matter what we do. So you’d say the logical question is:
Why didn’t they just switch nights between the East and the West? And my guess is, and they were quoted as saying, it was locked in concrete over a year ago. And that’s why they didn’t switch it. Guess what, they’re not the only one who has to lock things in concrete to do business.
And so we had no choice. I’m not happy about it in terms of our fans in Detroit. But there’s nothing any of us could do. I’d prefer there be no techno concert, there be no Tigers game. I prefer that there be - all the restaurants in Detroit closed, everybody staying home and watching us. It’s not realistic. And I’m sorry for the fans that are caught in the switches and feel that they’re conflicted, but I’m confident that NHL fans, Red Wings fans in Detroit will be watching our game.
It’s unfortunate - and it’s unfortunate in a funny sort of way, because Detroit sports fans are fortunate that two of their teams are doing so well. Who would have thought?
Q. You talked about moral responsibility when it comes to playing in Europe. I assume the Victoria Cup plans are moving forward, are you concerned at all about having a competition and promoting a competition with a Russian team, given their inability or unwillingness to come to the table in terms of an international transfer agreement and the problems it’s created for this League?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: Not in the short-term, because my goal is to have a cooperative framework for all interested parties, internationally, for the growth and development of the game.
And not having a transfer agreement is more of a short-term problem, because it will adjust, either we’ll get a transfer agreement in some form going forward, or the marketplace will adjust and players will insist, the players in Europe and Russia who want to come here, the players will either insist on short-term contracts or the right to buy out their contracts.
So over time there will be an adjustment. It may take a year or so, but I think it will adjust. In the interim, we’re going to try not to throw stones. We’re going to try and work our way through this. We didn’t threaten the world championships. We’re not threatening the Vancouver Olympics. And so we’re going to try and do this right.
I did meet recently with Alexander Medvedev in an attempt to establish a dialogue so we can maybe figure each other out a little bit better and understand what our mutual goals and objectives are. And so certainly as I look down the road in the short-term, we’re going to try and make things work instead of hunkering down and fighting, because cooperation’s always better than fighting in whatever venue you’re in.
Q. Since we’re in Detroit, I was wondering why the League felt it necessary to institute a $10,000 fine for when the octopi come on the ice and they’re swinging?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: Actually, we’ve kind of resigned ourselves that it comes out on the ice. So we’re not calling a delay of the game penalty, at least in its current form, and the amount of octopi that fly. The issue is the swinging of it. And Colin Campbell has had numerous conversations. The problem is the ice. I don’t know what the technical name is for stuff that comes off an octopus. I assume it’s some sort of gunk. When it sticks on the ice it’s a problem, and when it gets on things - it’s actually in one game got on a goaltender as it was being swung. They were going out the Zamboni entrance. It’s really more about making sure that no player hits something on the ice and blows out his knee.
It’s about the conditions that we’re playing under. So I have no illusions. The octupi will fly, but they just can’t be swung because we’ve got to limit the gunk. Not a very artful way of describing it, but I think you get the point.
Q. Just a follow-up to the Pistons conflict. It doesn’t sound like there was a lot of dialogue between NHL and the NBA as far as trying to resolve that?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: There was nothing anybody could do, because it’s beyond each of our controls. I accept at face value their view that it’s locked in stone. I know ours is and there’s nothing that can be done. Because these commitments are made a year or so in advance.
Q. A question about the scheduling matrix. Can you talk more about that and does that guarantee that the Wings are going to be able to see Sidney Crosby and the Pens next season?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: Every team will play every other team at least once either home or away. We’re moving from 10 inter-conference games, almost doubling it going to 18. You’ll see everybody in the other conference home or away and if you see them home one year you’ll see them on television the next year. But there will be at least one game.
And for three inter-conference setups, there will be a home-and-home. And we’re in the process of formulating who is going to be playing who in those home-and-homes. And they may rotate over time. But it was a move intended to create more inter-conference play, because while not a majority of our fans, but a substantial number of fans and clubs were vocal about wanting to move in that direction. We thought that was a good step in that direction.
Q. I just noticed that the League kind of missed a chance to end this, by this, I mean the playoffs, they had a shot at ending it before June. And I just wondered if there was any effort being made to squeeze the playoff schedule a bit so it’s a little less interminable.
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: I don’t think it’s interminable. And I’m sorry if you do. I like being here. I like going to games. And I feel a void in my life when the season is over. And I don’t even get to go on vacation.
Q. You need a hobby.
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: That may be. Squeezing it is an issue. It is the most grueling march to the championship of any sport. We’re very mindful of the wear and tear on our players.
If you note in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, we’re limited to the number of days, minimum, that the regular season can be. So we don’t do too much compression.
It’s a balancing act. Although, you know, we moved up a little bit and we’re doing the best we can based on - we have a certain number of games to get in in a certain amount of time, and there’s lots of travel involved, and there are building issues and the like.
And so we always look for ways to get you on vacation as quickly as possible. And I think we’ve started a little bit later. We’re ending a little bit earlier. It may not be monumental. It’s a few days. But I think we’re heading in the direction you’ve suggested.
Q. Each series, though, has two off days. This series could have started on Thursday. I mean I think there was a time if you couldn’t close out an opponent in four or five games, you paid the price for it. The Red Wings got a little vacation.
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: We wanted - this is an important event. We wanted to be appropriately set up for it. Doing NHL Live yesterday, I don’t know if you were there yesterday, is not something that you do on 24-hour’s notice. And we want to give the two teams that have reached this pinnacle in our season, the players and all of you who cover the game, the appropriate forum and we want to give this event the respect it deserves.
And I’m sorry if we’re not hurling head-long in a rush to get this over with. We like to savor the moment without dragging it out.
Q. What’s the motivation for looking at the goaltender equipment? Do you think there’s not enough scoring? Are you being petitioned by any factions in your League to try to increase scoring?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: Actually, that’s not and/or. That was an “and.” There are two things. One, I think all goaltenders should be on equal footing. If you’re a goaltender wearing smaller equipment, you shouldn’t necessarily have to play against a player who is more aggressive in terms of what he’s wearing, when he’s wearing stuff that maybe isn’t necessary for his protection, but is being used as a way to help keep pucks out of the net.
That’s not what the safety element of goaltender equipment was for. Goal scoring is down a drop. Goaltenders are bigger, both physically and by the equipment they wear. And I wouldn’t mind if there was a little more open space to be shot at.
Q. I was wondering if one of your teams were to hire a general manager who, say, stays there for a year and then conveniently moves away to have his friend come in as general manager and he’s under contract now, would that constitute collusion?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: That sounds like a pretty convoluted scenario.
Q. Not that convoluted in your League. It might happen.
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: The answer is, if everybody is - first of all, people who sign contracts can be held to them by the other party to the contract. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
And if tampering - collusion is not the right characterization. If there’s tampering going on, ultimately there are no secrets in this world. We will get to the bottom of it. And I’m no fan of tampering. And when it happens, it gets punished severely.
Q. What is the punishment for tampering at the GM level?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: I don’t have the constitution in front of me. My guess is it’s quite severe. It probably involves, for the club, the loss of significant amounts of money and draft picks. And for the person involved, it could involve fines and it could involve suspensions.
Q. Pennsylvania’s Governor has mentioned the Pens and Flyers playing an outdoor game on an annual basis?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: Happy Valley.
Q. Is that a consideration? Are you worried about having too many of those games?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: I don’t think I would - I can’t envision right now a scenario where we would have two teams play annually outdoors. We think the outdoor game was spectacular. We think it’s special and needs to stay special.
We’re not going to overdo it. The possibility of having the Penguins play the Flyers at some point in Happy Valley is intriguing and it’s on the list of possibilities that we are and will explore. I also have no doubt that if you played every year in Happy Valley the weather would not cooperate every year. These games are difficult to put on. They’re risky. They’re expensive. And they’re dependent on things that are not within our control.
At some point I would like to see the battle of Pennsylvania at Penn State, and we hope to make it a reality at some point. But I have trouble as I sit here tonight envisioning doing that every year, especially because they’re going to be other places that want the outdoor game.
Q. There’s been some chatter about the potential next step in the schedule matrix that might increase the number of games to 84 and facilitate every club going into every other arena during the season, fully interlocking schedule in that regard. I know it hasn’t happened yet. Are you for that? Do you foresee that as a possibility?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: Let me do the following: I want to kill any speculation on the schedule, because there are no schedule discussions going on now. And there may not be. I think we need to see what the schedule looks like next year. While we play to 94 percent of capacity, we had the attendance records I said, if you look at it our best attended games are actually the divisional rivalry games. So I want to see what impact it has on the business.
There is not overwhelming sentiment that a home-and-home should be played against every team at the expense of the divisional games. So whether or not we shorten the preseason and go to 84 regular season games and play a little more inter-conference is something that at some point may get further discussion and might get traction. But I’m not getting an overwhelming sentiment from the clubs that everybody’s anxious to play home-and-homes, for the reasons I said. And also travel. I think travel is going to become more and more of an issue.
It is getting, not just for those who go to the gas pumps, flying, chartering, which all our teams are required to do, is going to get astronomically expensive, and while travel is an expense item, it’s also a wear and tear item on the players.
Q. With the salary cap continuing to rise, would you like to see that 5 percent escalator or inflator that’s in the CBA get dropped?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: That’s an interesting question, because I invited Paul Kelly in and the Players’ Association in to say: You’ve got a decision to make, let us help you understand how the cap works. And the pros and cons of the 5 percent. And I happen to mention - in that meeting there were me and five of my staff, including Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, and I said, as it was kicked around the room, I said: If you ask us to vote, three would say go to the 5 percent and three would say don’t. So you’ve got an interesting decision to make.
If you go with the 5 percent, it’s more likely that there’s a bigger escrow that gets returned to us at the end of the year. This is a decision that the Players’ Association has to make. At the end of the day, no matter what they do, we don’t pay out more than the 57 percent, which is what I assume it will be, because we’ll be at 2.7 billion by next year. It’s really the Players’ Association’s decision, and I’ll respect whatever view they have. And I’m kind of ambivalent on the point.
Q. Second question about the cap going up. Are you worried about small market American teams, like a Nashville or Atlanta, staying with that floor, I guess, or meeting the floor of the salary cap?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: Revenues are going up for virtually everybody. Revenue sharing is intended to help bridge that gap. And as revenues go up, the amount of revenue sharing goes up. The system in that regard is working the way we had anticipated that it would. And I think clubs have demonstrated that you don’t have to be at the cap or even at the mid-point to make the playoffs and be competitive.
So I’m not concerned. It may be, over time, we have to keep looking at the numbers to see if the formulas are working exactly right. But I think it should be okay.
Q. At this point in time last year there was quite a bit of hubbub about potential expansion. Las Vegas was mentioned. I was wondering how things have changed with regard to potential expansion and particularly Jerry Bruckheimer’s interest in a franchise?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: Jerry Bruckheimer continues to be interested. Vegas continues to express an interest, as do places like Kansas City and Winnipeg and Seattle. And as I think most of you know, I talk to anybody on the phone and I invite anybody into my office.
We continue to understand these expressions of interest. But as I sit here today, I’m not in a position to say that we’re going to engage in a formal expansion process right now or at any time. That could change at any point. That’s not a headline. I just never say never to anything.
But as we sit here today, nobody’s relocating, and we’re not engaging in an expansion process.
Q. Gary, are you at all concerned about the Ducks, the ownership situation and the investigation of the SEC?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: The Samuelis have been terrific owners. They’re perhaps the most community-minded and charitable people in all of Orange County. They’ve made this franchise strong, solid and stable. And whatever judicial proceedings anybody may be involved in, our system of juris prudence, be it civil or criminal, has a presumption of innocence until the process is over.
I am not going to fret about something that may or may not be substantiated at the end of the day. I know Henry Samueli and Susan Samueli are committed to the Ducks, and I am not worried about them as we sit here today.
Q. The International Olympic committee just announced some pretty aggressive drug testing at the games coming up in China. Your thoughts about that and if it would have any impact on Vancouver and the Olympics and regarding the NHL players?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: I have confidence in our players. They’re appropriately educated and counseled on what is appropriate in terms of substances and inappropriate as it relates to substances.
I don’t believe we have a problem, and based on the history of our players being tested, either pursuant to our joint program with the Players’ Association or an international competition, it hasn’t been an issue. So the more aggressive, the better. Bring it on.
Q. You touched base a bit on the economy there. With teams like San Jose and Carolina raising ticket prices, are you worried about the average consumer maybe not having enough money in his or her…
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: You know, it’s interesting. If you look at our ticket prices over the last five years, I think we’re up about 2 or 3 percent for the whole period. Other sports are up between 15 and 25 percent. So what we’ve been through and our system, I think for certainly a time, has modulated the inflationary pull. But there are other costs to operating our game and our teams as a business and our clubs are going to have to take that into account.
You really have to look team by team when ticket prices are raised. When was the last time they raised ticket prices? What are the competitive tickets for other sports? As among the four majors, we’re either in third or fourth place.
I think our ticket prices, based on the overall economic structure of professional sports, has been and is the most reasonable.
Q. Quick clarification on the CBA. Did the owners have the right to reopen it in a year?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: No, just the players. The players have the right to reopen after the fourth year, let it expire, as we both can, after six. And the players have the right to extend it. When we were in negotiations, it seemed at one point to be getting contentious for over how long the deal was. I thought longer was better based on what we had been through and the fact we were learning a new system, I thought longer would be better, peace, stability, give people time to adjust. But the Players’ Association was concerned and I said: Listen, you want to cut it short after four, be my guest, because I think you’re going to like it. You like it so much you want to extend it a year, be my guest. That’s how we got to the four, six, seven scenario.
Q. It’s only one year they could extend it for?
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN: Yes. But we can both, in negotiations, agree to do that as well.
Anybody else? It should be fun. If there’s anything we can do for you during your visits with us, please let us know. And let’s have fun.
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