Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Paul on 10/03/06 at 12:19 PM ET
NHL MEDIA CONFERENCE CALL
GARY BETTMAN, BILL DALY, COLIN CAMPBELL, STEPHEN WALKOM
FRANK BROWN: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to this National Hockey League conference call featuring Commissioner Gary Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, Senior Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell and Senior Vice President and Director of Officiating, Stephen Walkom.
Before we get started, I want to cover some points of information that are new for 2006-07. We have a revision in game timing. All intermissions will be 17 minutes long, and all commercial breaks will be two minutes long, although the additional time is provided at the end of the break after the commercials to allow our broadcasters more time for storytelling and scene setting prior to puck drop.
There will also be a minimum of 40 seconds following each goal to allow our fans more time to celebrate and to allow our broadcasters more time to cover replays and analysis.
There also will be some new hand signals used by the referees for the infractions of butt-ending, checking from behind, clipping, and delay of game. I’m sure Stephen will describe them in more detail so the fans will be prepared when they see the signals used during the season.
I also would like to direct your attention to the NHL.com website which is completely redesigned, jam-packed with graphics, information, interactive features, and hockey content. I’ll turn it over to Commissioner Bettman.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Good morning, everyone. Let me be the first to welcome you to the 2006-07 NHL season. The race for the playoffs starts tomorrow night. I know that every coach, general manager, and player is focused on the fact that, starting tomorrow night, every game matters. Last season, the 9th-, 10th-, 11th-place finishers in the Eastern Conference missed the playoffs by a total combined of 11 points. In the West, the 9th- and 10th-place finishers were a combined nine points out after 82 games.
Bear in mind that virtually every one of the teams that missed the playoffs last season made some moves either in terms of player personnel or front office personnel over the summer. It’s going to be very interesting to see how these moves affect the balance of power in both conferences, so I, like you, cannot wait for the puck to drop.
We’re also excited because we’re coming off an extremely positive schedule of summer activities with our players. Some of the players joined us at the league meetings in Montréal, gave us their input. There’s going to be a business marketing representative player on every club who is going to work with us on initiatives to increase exposure for the game.
We, as a League, are committed more than ever to getting focus on the game and on the players and all the great exploits that take place on the ice this season. Now that we’ve fixed our economics and energized the game with new rules and a standard of enforcement for officiating—which will be maintained going forward, I promise you that—we now have the opportunity to build on the momentum generated last season. And in partnership with our players, we are going to shine the spotlight on the game and the players better than ever before.
We’re looking for good things on television in the U.S. with Versus getting a more favorable schedule and with NBC a dding to its coverage. In Canada, our rightsholders are prepared to continue doing their outstanding work.
All in all, we raise the curtain on this season with a sense of optimism and genuine excitement. I’m not by any means saying everything is perfect. Even if it was, we would strive to exceed perfection. But with the competitive balance we enjoy and with the players able to show their speed, their skill, their grace, their phenomenal abilities, we’re able to head into a season focused on the ice, and that’s a great thing for this game.
I’m here with Bill and Colie and Steve Walkom also is on the call, and we’re happy to take your questions.
Q. Steve, can you assess Ron MacLean’s performance as a referee last week and whether the exercise was worthwhile? Bill, have any teams applied for long-term injury exemptions? If so, can you tell us which teams and which players are affected?
STEPHEN WALKOM: Ron MacLean, I’m not sure long-term what it will hold in terms of his thinking on the game. But at least he was exposed at ice level to the speed of an exhibition game, to the skill of the players at high speed. I think it was a bit of an eye-opener for him. Got him to maybe appreciate the guys that are out there digging in every night officiating games at the National Hockey League level, and how the new game needs four officials on the ice to make sure that there’s coverage and that the guys are reacting to the fouls as they occur.
I think he enjoyed himself. He officiated amateur hockey growing up. I truly believe he’ll have a new perspective on both officiating at the pro level and the speed of the new game from his experience.
BILL DALY: Actually, there have been no long-term injury filings at this point, but I wouldn’t anticipate any until the clubs submit their opening day roster, which is set for 3 p.m. this afternoon as the deadline.
Q. Commissioner, what has been the feedback, say, from broadcasters, especially in the States, to the crackdown on obstruction? What is your personal feeling about how the game has changed from where it was before?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: The feedback that we’ve gotten from virtually all of our business partners, especially and including our broadcasters both north and south of the 49th parallel, is that the product on the ice has never been better—that everything we did last season seemed to work, seemed to energize the players, and, as important, our fans.
We thought and believe that the steps we took last year, that the efforts that Colie Campbell and his staff, the Competition Committee went through, actually worked the way we had intended. It’s not that we were surprised, but we were obviously pleased because we had undertaken a massive job, and a lot of things could have gone wrong. But I think a lot of hard work went into making it all come together.
All of the research that we did during last season and over the summer in terms of fans’ approval and satisfaction with what we did was astoundingly high. It was in the high 80 to 90% range of people approving the game on the ice, the shootouts, the various things that we had done.
I think on review this summer, that’s why there weren’t too many changes made. We had made a lot of changes. You don’t want to keep doing that on a regular basis. It worked very well and was well-received.
Q. Commissioner, there have been some challenges recently, I guess you could say, in the L.A. market in terms of drop-off, media attention, the team missing the playoffs the last couple seasons. Is that something that concerns you from the standpoint of the market size, the importance of this market? Also, in general, what is the importance of having a solid franchise in the Los Angeles market?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Well, we actually believe we should have 30 solid franchises, and each franchise should be solid, well-supported in its market. So we don’t play favorites. We don’t root for markets. We’d like 30 healthy, competitive teams.
Ticket sales, if I’m not mistaken, over the summer are up both for the Ducks and the Kings. The attention we’re getting is very strong. The fan feedback is very strong. The only place where I’ve detected a note of cutback is the L.A. Times, but that seems to be consistent with what the Times is going through with respect to budget cuts across the board, not just in hockey, not just in sports, but in other coverage as well.
The good news is that fans in terms of game stories have lots of places to get their information on an immediate basis and with video clips. We’ve been told by the sports editor of the L.A. Times that the other types of coverage, columnists and features will continue. So it’s just really the game coverage that seems to be impacted by the L.A. Times. For those who read the L.A. Times and want to know what’s happening immediately in the games, we recommend they go to NHL.com.
Q. Are you confident that this market is healthy as it should be or as healthy as it’s been in recent years?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Absolutely. I’m not even sure why there’s a question questioning it, although you’re entitled to ask it. It’s fair game. We have no concerns about either franchise in L.A. It’s a great market. The teams are well-supported. We have terrific ownership of both franchises.
Q. Bill or Gary, in the first year of the new labor agreement, how many teams reported a profit across the league both before and after the revenue sharing distributions? How many of those teams were teams that reported losses in the 2003-04 season?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Most of our teams made money. We haven’t done the final accounting, but I probably wouldn’t give you the exact breakdown anyway. The teams that lost money lost far less than they did under the old system.
We believe that with the better competitive balance, with respect to how good the product is on the ice, the teams that lost money will continue to increase filling their buildings and will move towards breaking even and ultimately even profitability.
This agreement worked exactly as we had anticipated that it would, and we are very pleased with it. If anybody has any doubt as to the effectiveness of the salary cap, it worked so well, that’s why we owe the players money, because we wound up underpaying on the 54%.
Q. Is there any way that you can quantify sort of the effect revenue sharing had on those figures? Were there a number of teams that moved from losses to profits because of those distributions?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: In some cases, that was the case. In other cases, the losses were dramatically reduced. Some teams received quite sizable or will receive quite sizable revenue sharing distributions. But in all respects, both the revenue sharing and the salary cap range, it worked as we expected it would. As importantly as the economics—you know, I talked about this in my opening remarks. The competitiveness of the game, I think, what, 25 clubs either made the playoffs or within 10 points of making the playoffs. One of the things we hoped to accomplish, and we believe we did, giving our fans everywhere the hope and belief that each year their team can be competitive.
Q. Commissioner, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been for sale for a long time. That seems to have died down with the casino slots issue heating up. How closely are you monitoring that issue? What do you believe will happen to the club in terms of a new arena and in terms of whether the team will remain in Pittsburgh?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Excellent question. I’m glad you asked it. One, I anticipate there will be new ownership. Two, I am anticipating, and am certainly extremely hopeful, that a new building will be built in Pittsburgh, because we all know the Penguins have to have a new building. Finally, with new ownership and with a new building, my belief is that the future for the Penguins in Pittsburgh is both long and bright. We don’t want to see that team go anywhere, but the team is going to need a new building.
Q. Can you give a reason why you feel so strongly positively that way?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Because Pittsburgh has always been a great market for us. They have a terrific team. I believe if the Penguins can have the same type of civic support in terms of infrastructure, namely like the Pirates and like the Steelers getting a new state-of-the-art facility, I have no doubt that Pittsburgh will continue to support the Penguins.
Q. Commissioner, what is it that makes you believe that the market in Pittsburgh is healthy? Are things lined up beyond the arena situation?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: The team has a good local television arrangement with FOX Sports regional. The fans, over an extended period of time, have demonstrated their great interest and support of NHL hockey. This is a team that’s got a great history and tradition and a good organization running the club. Why would we want to leave a hockey hotbed like Pittsburgh? The only thing that could drive us out of town would be the inability of those in charge of governmental entities to provide a new building as was provided for the Steelers and the Pirates.
Q. Commissioner, to follow on the question out of L.A. in addition to the L.A. Times, there are other news organizations scaling back their coverage a little bit. Do you have a plan to try to bring everyone sort of back on board covering the NHL? And can you talk yet about the plans for the NHL store?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: The first part of your question is, the traditional print media is going through an incredibly difficult time. There are budgetary cutbacks across the board. There are newspapers that are cutting back all sports. There are newspapers that are cutting back investigative journalism. They’re cutting back their foreign and national coverage. While the columnists and the features will obviously remain important, the game stories become less important in a wired world where people can get their highlights and clips during the game, immediately after the game, so they’re not necessarily waiting to read their game stories until the next morning. In fact, the people who wait till the next morning download clips onto their iPods and they watch them while they’re going to work, with video, with commentary, the like. We offer that to our fans. We will continue to offer that to our fans. With respect to the demographics of our fans, our fans tend to be extremely tech-savvy. They’re availing themselves of this new digital world.
Would I like everybody who had traditionally covered us to continue to cover us? Yeah. If this was five or 10 years ago, I would be more concerned about traditional print media game coverage. But this is a newly wired world. We will, and our fans will, adapt accordingly. I think it’s really the newspapers that are going to have to spend time focusing on what their businesses are going to look like going forward.
With respect to the NHL store, you know, we would have preferred to launch it more formally after it had been constructed. We are taking more space in another office building two blocks south of where we are on Sixth Avenue, also known as the Avenue of the Americas. As part of that arrangement, taking a number of floors of office space, we’re also taking ground floor space, which we think will be an incredible branding opportunity and experience for our fans. It will kind of make clear who lives in this building once we open the store.
We are very excited about it. I’m not getting specific right now in terms of the details. As the architects and the store designers finish their work more concretely, we will have more to say on the subject. We think it’s a space that we can have a lot of fun with and that our fans will yet have another way to connect with us.
Q. Do you have a target for when you expect that to open?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: My guess is—don’t hold me to it—probably sometime next summer. We’re not scheduled to move till just before the start of the season a year from now. Construction in New York, in addition to being very expensive, is very fairly time consuming.
Q. Bill or Gary, just a question about the trade from New Jersey to San Jose, and the optics. I know it’s a trade that individual teams can make. It seems to me a way for a team to get around a salary cap issue. Is there concern about that in the future, that other teams might kind of do similar kinds of deals?
BILL DALY: Obviously, as with any trade, we scrutinize the facts of every trade. This one was no different. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s our responsibility to uphold the spirit and letter of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. We consulted with the Players’ Association on this. The bottom line was, in its form, it was a legitimate hockey trade with a trade of player rights and draft picks. It was not something we had any basis to object to or reject.
Q. I know the paperwork is fine. You have a retired player going one way and being paid by another team. Well, I guess we don’t know that. Is there concern if this happens that other teams could have a higher payroll than what’s on the ice?
BILL DALY: No. Again, first of all, Malakhov, while he is—his current status is he’s a suspended player. He has not formally or officially signed his voluntary retirement papers. As a result, he is not ineligible to play in the League. If he were, it may have been a different answer on the permissibility of the trade. But he is not getting paid. He’s a suspended player. There is no cash changing hands. There is a cap charge related to his contract on the basis of him having been an over 35 player at the time he entered into his contract. But there is no payment being made to him.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I want to add briefly. Every trade, by necessity, has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Something that might pass sc rutiny on one set of circumstances, if you change some of the facts, might not. Secondly, to the extent that people have focused on Malakhov’s situation, his contract, the cap requirements, the over-35 rule, New Jersey still had to part with a first-round draft pick to deal with this situation. So in terms of the issues that various rules were intended to deal with under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, we think the consequences here were consistent with those rules.
Q. Steve, any special emphasis that we should start to watch for among the officials tomorrow night? Bill, do you anticipate everyone will be under the cap? If they don’t make it, what happens? Do they forfeit games?
STEPHEN WALKOM: I think what you’re going to see tomorrow night is much of the same from the continuation of last year. Our guys are excited and focused on the standard of enforcement coming off training camp. We understand that we’re going to be expected as a team to be even more consistent, to be even better than last year. But at any point in the game, whatever the score is in the game, our guys, if they see a penalty, we are going to expect them to react to it.
I think what you’re going to see and we’re hoping for is conformity from the players, recognizing that they will be called for a foul if, in fact, they commit it. That doesn’t mean that players won’t play on the edge and that they won’t be penalized when they cross over and tug or pull or poke or hook a player.
I think another area that you’ll see this year is that if a player is pulled or tugged and he decides to embellish the foul, our guys have been instructed to penalize the embellishment as well. Further, we’re hoping for some conformity in this area: that the players recognize that they don’t have to embellish. That our guys will react to the foul when they see it. They can stay on their feet. They don’t need to embellish. They don’t need to dive for the officials on the ice to call a penalty game in and game out.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Before Bill answers, I want to add to one thing that Stephen said. I fully understood and accepted, for obvious reasons, all of the skepticism about our willingness, our ability, our commitment to maintain the standard last season. It seemed like we were defending that position every step of the way, from the post-Olympic stretch in the regular season to the playoffs.
While that skepticism may have been warranted last season, I think as we look back on last season, maybe it’s time to cut the officiating department and our officials a little slack. You know, if they start to slip, call them out on it because we won’t tolerate it, so you’re not going to see them slip. But I think the skepticism should be put in the closet as part of last year and we should look forward to simply maintaining what we know is great for the game.
BILL DALY: The process of kind of cap compliance is really no different than the process of rule compliance every year. A club will submit its opening-day roster. If it’s in violation, not just of the cap, but of any League rule, it’s bounced back to them immediately. They have an obligation to cure it. Obviously, if they don’t take curative action, we will start making curative action for them, giving them their options in terms of making curative action. There’s no possibility you ever get to a situation where you get to opening night and a club is not in compliance with its cap.
Q. Colin, Frank was mentioning before the new rules of 17-minute intermissions, minimum delays after a goal is scored, this sort of thing. Is there a concern at all of taking some of the flow away from the game for the fans in the rink and the players because of longer pauses between action?
COLIN CAMPBELL: Yes, there is a concern. We’re always concerned about the length of games. Three or four years ago I think our games were up to 2:30, 2:40. I don’t think that’s what the fans want to endure no matter how good the product is.
Over the years we’ve worked on a lot of things. The hurry-up faceoff/changes have really increased the flow of the game, along with the tag up off-side to reduce the number of off-side calls last year.
I don’t know if that’s the best thing for it. There’s always a push and a pull for things. I’m not so sure that was the best hockey move to make. In the big picture, to keep the game flowing, I think it was something that was a feel-good thing for the fans to know that the game was going to flow.
We have to still tell stories to the fans at home during the game. In some regards we’re moving too fast. The game was really flowing fast. I think you have to balance it out. We’re conscious of that all the time. We’re conscious of the game. Of course, we’ve added the shootouts. We’ve worked hard at making the shootouts flow quickly. How much can we flood the ice? How much can we scrape? How much can we make the fans and players sit there and wait for a scrape? We’ve gone through all that. The flow of the game is important from not only the respect of the fans watching it at home and in the arena, but also the players playing the game, to keep them in the game.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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