Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 06/12/13 at 07:41 PM ET
Updated w/ video at 7:55 PM: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly held their "state of the game" speech prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. Here's the transcript thereof:
2013 Stanley Cup Final Pre-Series Press Conference
An interview with: COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER BILL DALY
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome. Let Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and I be among those to join the chorus and welcome you to the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
I want to thank the clubs involved, the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks. I want to congratulate them for getting to this point, particularly Jeremy Jacobs and Rocky Wirtz. We have two great clubs, two great cities, two great arenas, and lots of great fans. So we're looking forward to an exciting, entertaining and fun Stanley Cup Final.
Based on what I think we've all seen during these playoffs, how could you not deeply respect the effort, the commitment, the athleticism of our players, undoubtedly the best athletes in the world.
As you think about the games that have gone forward to this date, we've had incredible, incredible games, unpredictable, entertaining, come-from-behind. It just goes to show that you don't know what's going to happen in any game or any series until it's over. That's probably a testament to the great competitive balance that we've continued to see across the league.
There is no doubt that the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy in all of sports, the most difficult championship to win. When you look at our competitive balance, how difficult it is to win the Stanley Cup, it's no coincidence that we haven't seen a repeat Stanley Cup champion in more than a decade.
This Stanley Cup Final also is a battle of two great hockey traditions. Both franchises are in the 90-year-old, give or take, range. As I said, you'll see hopefully in this series, as well, it isn't over till it's over. You'll see great team spirit, great team effort, great team commitment, and sacrifice by the players.
It's incredible because, as you know, when each series is over, no matter how hard-fought it's been, the players show each other the ultimate respect when they come face?to?face in the handshake line.
Obviously we had a start to the season which was not the one we wanted. But when you look at the entirety of what's gone on, there's no doubt that our fans have been nothing short of spectacular, and we're grateful for that. We thank them.
Attendance was great during the regular season and the playoffs. I think we were about 97% of capacity during the regular season, over 100% so far in the playoffs. TV ratings, Canada, the U.S., local, national, were all strong, and in some cases, record.
But the good news as we emerge from this season, we have a long-term agreement, and we're looking at up to a decade of labor peace. That gives us the opportunity to continue to grow this great game, to grow the league, to have the teams get stronger, and most importantly, to avoid the distractions that come with the difficulties we faced at the beginning of the season.
On the news front, the Competition Committee met. It was a good, positive meeting, perhaps the best meeting that committee has had since the game was reformed eight years ago.
I don't think you need me to go through the rule changes, I will in questions and answers if you want me to. Player safety remains a priority. From a hockey standpoint, both Brendan Shanahan and Colie Campbell are here.
We have Olympic negotiations that are ongoing. Bill can address those, if you like. But we're still working on it. We're optimistic that we can get it done, but it isn't done yet.
Phoenix, I will no doubt get a question on that. Obviously, we're getting to the point where some decisions are going to have to be made both by the City of Glendale and by us. I haven't set a deadline, but time is getting shorter.
We're looking forward to realignment to next season, looking forward to the future. But as we look back on this season and take a deep breath before we look ahead to the Stanley Cup Final and then to next season, we find ourselves in a good, strong place. We're grateful to be there, and grateful to be here with all of you. So we'll take your questions.
Q. Obviously, there's a storm pending here. Could you give us the latest information you have and what level of preparations are being made.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: We have been monitoring the weather. I generally get to focus on that when we do an outdoor game. A little more unusual to have to do it for indoor games.
We know there's severe weather on the way. We're monitoring it closely. We're in touch with building people. Building people are in touch with the authorities in Chicago.
They've opened the doors earlier to the building so that fans can get in and avoid the weather, because they're not exactly sure when it's coming.
If, in fact, the power goes, it's probably going to be because the power goes for the entire city. There's not much you can do about that. The building is more than adequately staffed. This is a terrific building, very well-run, and they're on top of whatever procedures they need to follow facing a potential Act of God in terms of how severe this weather is going to be.
We are monitoring it closely. Our special events people are in close coordination with the building people, and the building people are in close communication with the city, and all of us together are in close communication with the people who monitor the weather.
Q. Where exactly is the Olympic process at? Why is it sort of dragging?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Why don't you start off on that.
BILL DALY: Well, in terms of where it's at, I think we're fairly well?advanced. Obviously, we need to be. We have a schedule to issue for next year. That schedule is going to be a little bit later than it has been in prior years. That's a function of a shortened season this year. It's a function of the Olympic process, negotiation we're going through, a function a little bit of Phoenix. I expect the schedule sometime in July.
In terms of the Olympics specifically, a little more complicated negotiation based on it being in Sochi. The IOC has been more actively involved than it has been in the past. The Players' Association has been actively involved with respect to logistics for players, families and guests.
So we continue to work at it. I think the parties have been in close contact in recent days, and we hope to get together and get it hammered out in the near future.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I'll add a little more specificity. On some issues that have been of concern to us, I think we've made some progress on them. If you were keeping score, the Players' Association probably at this point has more open issues than we do, but we're not done, and we're doing this together. So until it's all done, it isn't done.
Q. With respect to the new alignment for next year, have you decided on names for the divisions, a playoff format? Will it be a division champion for the final-four?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: We have, but we're not going to announce it tonight. We've decided on names and all those things. At some point probably after the Stanley Cup Final is over, at or around or slightly before announcing the schedule, we'll answer that question.
Q. Bill, you mentioned that Phoenix somewhat impacts the schedule being released. Does that mean or suggest that the team won't play there next year?
BILL DALY: Yes. It certainly means it's possible the team won't play there next year. We're in the short strokes in Phoenix right now. The ownership group we've negotiated a deal with has been negotiating with the City of Glendale. I think everybody kind of knows what's on the table. I think the puck is pretty much in the City of Glendale's end with respect to how they want to deal with that.
Q. Just to go a little further on Phoenix. Time is short. How much time do you have left? Why not have a deadline?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: No reason to. It's been a complicated process. We, in our minds, understand that we're dealing with a timeframe. But a specific day isn't going to do it. But time is getting short.
As Bill said, this is really going to be a decision that the City of Glendale is going to have to make.
Q. How far did it get when you didn't think this day would come, where you didn't think you would play a Stanley Cup Final?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I was always optimistic we would be playing. I was disappointed, as everybody was, that it took as long as it did to get the season going.
But we and the Players' Association needed to accomplish certain things. Getting them in place has given us the ability to look forward to a long period of time without having to worry about these things.
I'm glad we're here.
Q. I'm pretty sure you have a Plan B or even a Plan C for Phoenix. If they're not playing in Phoenix next year, is Québec City a possibility?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: We're still focused on making it work with the Coyotes staying in Arizona. I don't want to begin a process, particularly publicly, where there's going to be a lot of speculation where the team might go if it moved, because all that would do would be unfairly raise expectations in places, and I don't want to do that to fans in those communities.
We're just going to leave it that we're still focused on the Coyotes in Arizona.
Q. Can you talk about where the revenues are at through the shortened season? Above, beyond, below what you expected? How does that project into next year even though the cap is coming down?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I don't think yet we've come to rest on the numbers. I think it's fair to say that we did better than the proportionality of how much of the season actually got played.
BILL DALY: We played 58% of our season.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: But we did better than 58% of our revenues, we believe. It's not done yet and there's still some revenues to be generated over the next couple weeks. But we believe we did better than a strict percentage would have you think.
Q. How much better can the officiating get in the playoffs?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: The officials in this league are the best in the world, I believe, not just in hockey, but in any sport. I believe they have the most difficult job. It always seems to undergo even more intense scrutiny this time of year.
This is a game of errors. Coaches make them, players make them, and occasionally the officials make them.
We constantly critique, supervise and coach them. They're held accountable for their performance. You have the best four referees who have made it this far to work the Stanley Cup Final.
No matter what they do, they get criticized. If they call penalties at the end of the game, people get hysterical and say you shouldn't call penalties at the end of a playoff game. If they don't call the penalties, they're letting the standard slip.
The officiating has been consistent. It's been consistent through the season. It's been consistent over the last few years. Whether or not I'm pleased with it isn't the point. We're constantly trying to make it better. But it involves a human element in an era where there are countless replays, angles, slow motion. All things that the officials don't get to do in real?time. I actually think their performance holds up pretty well against that level of review.
Is it perfect? No. Have they been given instructions to change the standards in the playoffs? No. At the Competition Committee last week when we left, there was a discussion of what you see in the playoffs is sometimes a function of a change in style of play. Two teams matching up over a series, making adjustments.
But the officials do a very good job. Is it perfect? No. But that's what we strive for.
Q. Yesterday, some of the players were talking about being a part of an original six final, so special for them to be a part of it, for the fans as well. They said it would be good for the game. Do you agree?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Well, what really is good for the game is what takes place on the ice. If it's entertaining, if it's skillful, if it's exciting, then that will be good for the game.
The fact that you have two teams that have long histories and traditions is a plus because it feeds into the storylines. The fact that this is the first original six matchup in, what, 34 years adds to the intrigue. But the most important thing is what's going to take place on the ice.
Obviously two big hockey cities are excited about this. That may garner even more attention throughout Canada and the rest of the United States. But it starts with what takes place on the ice.
Q. You cancel a season and fans come back in record numbers. You fast forward to this year, you lose 42% of the season, again fans come back. Is the NHL now impenetrable and is there anything you can do to not bring fans back?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Well, I'm not sure that I would agree with exactly how you phrased the question. So if I don't answer it precisely the way you asked it, I apologize.
We have great fans. There's no doubt about that. You see their passion. You see the way our buildings are night after night, more alive than the fans in any other sport. I believe our fans tend to be, and the research shows this, our fans are more connected to this game than they are the fans of any other sport.
We in sports do the best we can to deal with what takes place in the competition and the business side as well, and sometimes those forces conflict with each other and you don't get to the place you want to get as easy as possible.
I think our fans understand that we care passionately about the game. We want to give them the best possible experience. We're doing the best that can be done to deal with the issues that all sports over the last few years have dealt with, for better or for worse.
It's not that misery loves company. There were, in an 18?month period, three labor issues in three different sports.
The ultimate resolution of those is what determines how the fans come back. If they're comfortable that you've come to a place that makes the games healthy and stable going forward, they tend to be more forgiving than if they think you put a Band?Aid on it.
We are grateful for our fans. But to suggest that anything or anybody or any business or any sport is impenetrable, nobody would dare think that because that's not true, it's not real life.
Q. Do you think the fans you're talking about would like to see more goals actually scored?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: It's interesting because I think it goes more to the quality of the game they're seeing than just pure scoring.
I believe that in the 80 games we've had of the playoffs, we had more games with six or more goals than we had with games with three or less goals.
It's really about how exciting they are. When you look at the number of games that were either tied up or won in the last minute, I think 10% of the games did that. Games that were decided or tied in the last five minutes, there was probably 16 or 18 of those. That's more important if the game is 8?1, you have a lot of goals, but I'm not sure it was a compelling game.
You can't over-generalize. You have to look at the full body of work.
Q. Does the Phoenix issue affect realignment at all?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Since our hope is they're going to stay where they are, it shouldn't. And if the team is forced to relocate, then we'll have to look at it and make a decision as to whether or not it is impacted.
Q. Where were you at with concussions this year? What can you do moving forward, continuing to help eliminate that from the game?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Actually, you'll correct me if I'm wrong on this, on a per?game basis, concussions were down slightly.
BILL DALY: They were.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: So the work that the concussion working group is doing, which is a joint effort with the Players' Association and the league, our physicians, our trainers, is to continue to educate, monitor, make sure appropriate decisions are being made for diagnosis and treatment.
This is an ongoing effort. Medical science is continuing to evolve because nobody has all the answers yet. But this is an area that we think is vitally important, and we're devoting a great deal of energy and resources to dealing with.
Do you want to add anything to that?
BILL DALY: I agree. It's a huge emphasis for the league and for the teams. Everybody understands its importance, the players as well. It's discussed at all levels.
Obviously we talked it through with the Competition Committee, how it relates to rules. We had a concussion working group meeting. We have our concussion protocol. We have all our professionals working on it. It's a huge emphasis for it.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: As are all elements of player safety, which is why we're the only sports league to have a Department of Player Safety monitoring what's taking place on the ice from a player safety standpoint.
Q. Based on what you've seen from the end of the lockout, would you expect next year to have the revenues be at to where they were prior to the work stoppage?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: And hopefully beyond. I had an Audit Finance and Executive Committee meeting on Monday and we've told them that's our view of the world.
Q. Two questions on Phoenix. If we understand that you've got an ownership in place who will only sort of take control of the team once the City Council of Glendale strikes a deal, it seems like we're working off a timetable that is controlled by the City Council in Glendale, is that correct?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: No. I'll answer the question. The answer is no. At some point we're going to have to make a decision.
BILL DALY: Or in other words, delay could be a decision. No decision could be a decision in this case.
There's no misunderstanding with respect to what our timetable is vis?à?vis the City of Glendale. They know what our decision timeline is, what are the decisions we have to make. There's no misunderstanding of the parties.
Q. You've spoken of keeping the team there and relocation. Does a third option of having the franchise in hiatus exist?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: There are a myriad of options. We're not prepared to engage in speculation as to what the optionality is. The focus, at least for the time being, remains on having the Coyotes in Arizona.
Obviously we'll have lots of choices, options and decisions. At the time, if we get to that point, and hopefully we won't, then we'll focus on which one is the best.
Q. You have a series that features two original six teams. It's very likely to be quite popular with the fans, maybe one of the most highly rated series ever. Yet you, at one point, were days away from canceling the season. How relieved are you right now?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Actually I was relieved in January when we were able to make a deal going forward.
As I've indicated either in my opening remarks or previous questions, we've had a very, very strong season in terms of attendance, buildings 97% full in the regular season, over 100% full in the playoffs, ratings increases, records some places, locally, nationally, Canada and the U.S. We've had very exciting, entertaining and compelling playoffs. That you would want in any season.
Having the ability to look forward for a decade of labor peace to me is the most important thing that we were able to accomplish.
Q. Two summers ago there was the death of two NHL players followed by the death of a former NHL player, recently retired. The league at the time said they were going to investigate the situation, come out with some form of report on what happened. I don't believe we've ever seen any report. What did happen and what did you find?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Actually, we didn't say we were going to investigate those particular tragedies. What we said is we were going to review our own procedures and assets that are available to players in terms of our substance abuse and behavioral health program. That's something that has been ongoing.
Bill, you've been a part of that.
BILL DALY: Yes. I don't think we ever said ?? it's something we've worked on with the Players' Association jointly and it's something that's being acted on.
Q. Do you need a decision on Phoenix by the Board of Governors meeting on June 27th?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Maybe. Are you trying to get me to set a deadline? There's a board of governs meeting on the 27th. There's a City Council meeting on June 25th. Stuff's going to happen.
Q. World Cup of Hockey, is there any decision to bring that back?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: We're in discussions with the Players' Association on working on a timetable for international competition. I think the first step is figuring out what we're doing with the Olympics. We're going to take a look at World Championship participation.
Again, this is jointly with the Players' Association. We are very much committed, at least at 10,000 feet, to bringing back a World Cup and doing it on a regular basis.
Once we get the Olympics figured out, we'll start working on a long?term Olympic, World Cup, World Championship international competition calendar. Might involve in that calendar what we do with premiere games, whether or not we have exhibition games, play European champions. These are all things that we're intrigued by, excited about, think are great opportunities for hockey worldwide.
BILL DALY: We had agreed actually we would tackle those issues coming off any agreement with the Olympics. Didn't expect the Olympic issue to take this long, but it has. So I assume we'll get to those quickly thereafter.
Q. You mentioned you don't want to raise expectations in other places regarding the Coyotes. Are there that many markets available that you could turn around and go to?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: There are a number of markets that have been expressing interest to us over the years. The phone keeps ringing more regularly the longer that the Coyotes situation stays unresolved. Based on the dates we just happened to talk about with the previous question, it's causing the phone to ring even more.
Q. During the acrimony of the lockout, some fans and media wondered whether you would put yourself out there with the Stanley Cup. Is it going to be business as usual for you on that front this year?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Yes.
Q. You mentioned briefly the World Championships. Are you thinking of restricting or somehow changing the players' participation in that?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: It's a discussion that we and the Players' Association have to have as part of an overall discussion about do you look at things differently in an Olympic or World Cup year, how much in terms of international demands is it appropriate for the players.
I'm not suggesting that we're necessarily making a change. But it's part of the discussion that you have to have in setting a long?term calendar.
Q. If the phone is ringing about interest from other markets, why is Phoenix still the best option for the NHL? Can the franchise not just survive, but thrive with new ownership?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: That's a great question, so let me answer it in two parts.
The first is, we try to avoid franchise relocation. We try to do everything possible. We don't think it's fair to fans. We don't think it's fair, unless you have to move, to do it to communities that build you buildings.
We're not going to get involved to where we're going to say, ‘we'd rather be here than there’. We're going to try to preserve what's in place. That's what we've always done, even when it's resulted previously in franchise relocation. That only happens when we've exhausted all possibilities.
We've now operated this club for about three years indirectly. We've had ownership of it. We've had great support by the people on the ground there. Mike Nealy and Don Maloney, in particular, have done a particularly strong job.
We actually believe if you gave the community an owner, not the league, who said, ‘I'm committed to being here’, this franchise actually could be successful from a business standpoint. We've seen what the fan base will do with all the uncertainty. We understand the dynamics from the business community, the broadcasters, media, people who buy suites, naming rights.
If there was certainty surrounding this franchise, its fortunes would improve dramatically just by virtue of putting in a real owner.
BILL DALY: No matter how this plays out, I don't think anybody can accuse us of a 'grass is greener' approach to this. We've been committed to this market. We have done everything humanly possible to make this franchise work in this market. Now is the time we're going to find out whether that works.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Again, the obligation that we take so seriously, it starts with the fans and the community. But for those of you who have been to the arena in Glendale, I worry about what's going to happen to the arena if the team isn't there. I think it's likely to get boarded up because they're not going to have enough events to sustain it. I worry about what's going to happen to Westgate and all the businesses and people that are employed there. I worry about the impact it will have on the football stadium that may not be ideal anymore.
So we've taken all those things into account over the last three years as we've tried to make it work. That's why ultimately it's up to the City of Glendale to make the decision that they think is in the best interest of their constituents. Whatever they decide we'll abide by.
Ultimately, whether or not this team stays at this point, is their call.
Thank you. Enjoy the series.
Update: Here's a video of the presser:
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