Kukla's Korner Hockey

Kukla's Korner Hockey

Gary Bettman On The State Of The NHL Plus Bill Daly Joins Q & A

05/28/2018 at 9:14pm EDT

transcript provided by the NHL PR department

GARY BETTMAN: Welcome to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. On this Memorial Day, as we gather for the crowning event of our season, we also pause to thank and honor the brave men and women of the military who sacrifice their lives in the service of their country.

Before Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and I take questions, I’d like to take care of a little business. First, I congratulate the Washington Capitals, who by virtue of their Game 7 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning last Wednesday earned the Eastern Conference championship for the first time since 1998. In the playing seasons since 1998, 11 different franchises have won the Stanley Cup, 10 others have reached the final, and all 31 NHL franchises have made the Playoffs, yet another reflection of our incomparable competitive balance.

This is the first time since 2007 when Anaheim defeated Ottawa that no matter which of the two finalists wins, it will be the first Stanley Cup in the history of their franchise. So congratulations to Ted Leonsis, team president Dick Patrick, GM Brian MacLellan, Coach Barry Trotz, and to the Capitals players who defeated a 97-point Columbus Blue Jackets team, a 100-point Pittsburgh Penguins team that had won the Cup the two past years, and a 113-point Tampa Bay team to reach this championship round.

In the NHL, as I think we all know, it is so difficult to win in the regular season. It’s so difficult to make the Playoffs. It’s difficult to win even one playoff game, much less 12, and now the Capitals have earned the right to seek an even higher level of play against a Western Conference champion that quite simply has astonished the sports world with its historic performance. Obviously the first Stanley Cup Final of the NHL’s second century includes a first-year team, the Vegas Golden Knights.

The expansion draft, which provided the first real vestiges of their roster, was conducted here at T-Mobile arena last June 21st. Now, only 342 nights later, the Golden Knights open the next chapter of a remarkable story that no one, no one could have predicted.

Last week when the Golden Knights clinched the Western Conference championship in Winnipeg, their third series-clinching triumph on the road in these Playoffs, same as the Capitals, an incredible 36 percent of the televisions in use in Las Vegas were actually tuned into the game. The bond is real between this city and its first-born major professional sports franchise. The connection is undeniable and is transcendent.

So congratulations to Bill Foley, team president Kerry Bubolz, general manager George McPhee, Coach Gerard Gallant, and the Golden Knights players. They each cheerfully defied doubters and silent cynics who questioned hockey’s allure in a market that had been unproven. There can be no question now.

When the start of our season approached, NHL story lines centered on Vegas, of course. But there was our debut in China, the launch of our Global Series in Stockholm, the conclusion of our Centennial Celebration, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ quest for the Stanley Cup first three-peat since the Islanders in the 1980s. And as the season unfolded, the focus changed to a surge in scoring to an average of 5.9 goals per game, which was a 7 percent jump. 21 players improved their point totals by 24 or more from the prior season, and for the first time since the ‘93-’ 94 season, seven rookies recorded at least 50 points.

Focus also turned to the 47-point improvement by Colorado, which finished last overall last season, and to the New Jersey Devils, clinching a playoff spot after finishing last in the East last season. And there was the marked improvements of clubs such as Winnipeg, Nashville, and Tampa Bay.

What stood out, as well, was the unmistakable unity of the NHL community. The power of sport to offer strength and healing at times of unspeakable sorrow. From the horror of October 1’s madness here in Las Vegas came the rallying cry Vegas Strong, two words that turned into action when the Golden Knights joined the community and mobilized – comforting victims, supporting first responders, providing reasons to smile and cheer at a time of utter devastation in this city.

In the grim aftermath of the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School, the Florida Panthers committed with the rest of the community their time and their effort providing any comfort and healing they could. And we all left sticks out and lights on for Humboldt. In a season of so much heartbreak, we were inspired and heartbroken by the courage of Jonathan Pitre, who took so much joy in his friendship with the Ottawa Senators. We were lifted by the perseverance of Brian Boyle, Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire, who showed that sometimes good things happen when Hockey Fights Cancer.

We also marveled at the magic of our sport when emergency goalie Scott Foster left his accounting office, strapped on his pads and somehow helped the Blackhawks beat the Winnipeg Jets while his hockey buddies watched on the TV sets at Johnny’s Ice House. And I think we all knew that Washington’s Brett Connolly was not going to stop tossing pucks over the glass until 6-year-old Keelan Moxley finally got one prior to Game 2 of the first round against Columbus.

When the start of our season approached, another story line was the announcement of the Declaration of Principles that were developed and drafted by the NHL and supported by 16 other organizations around the hockey world. One of those principles is that hockey’s greatest value is the role it plays in development of character and life skills. We believe that hockey can improve lives and strengthen communities. I would say that this NHL season was a reflection of that.

So by any measure, it has been a remarkable year, a remarkable season, and we are looking forward to a terrific Stanley Cup Final.

I’m going to take questions, Bill Daly and I will. But before I do that, I also want to acknowledge that Frank Brown, who has worked with me for the last 20 years, and before that was a major factor in covering our sport for the newspaper in New York, the Daily News, and at times, notwithstanding the fact that he joins us, could even be a pretty severe critic, has announced that he will be retiring. Since we’re the same age roughly, I don’t understand what he’s doing, but he goes with our gratitude and our good wishes and a thank you for a job very well done. So thank you, Frank.

Now Bill and I, and Frank, if you want, will take questions.

Q. I had a nice chat with Joe Maloof, who mentioned that the commissioner was really the first commissioner of the major sports to take the leap of faith and believe in Las Vegas. You folks have visited here obviously several times before. What were the conditions or the factors that led both of you to have that, quote-unquote, leap of faith and belief in the Las Vegas market?
BILL DALY: What I’d say is this commissioner, in particular, had faith in the Las Vegas community and certainly wasn’t scared by the things other sports leagues may have been scared about, as long ago as 10 years ago. Certainly the prospect of a franchise in Las Vegas was not something that scared the League or the Board of Governors. Obviously there were some issues with respect to getting a building here, having an ownership group that was committed, and we had a little economic problem in 2008 which kind of created a hiccup in the process.

But we’ve always viewed this market as a real prospect to be a very successful NHL market, and certainly this year has proved that to be the case.

GARY BETTMAN: I agree with everything he said, but also you check -- you go through the checklist: Great building, great ownership, Bill Foley, a market that we believe would support the team, and then there was a fourth factor. We thought being in Las Vegas would actually give hockey a greater presence and make the League and the game stronger.

Q. Could you provide an update on Seattle’s bid as well as when you expect a vote for the Board of Governors and why there might be a delay?
GARY BETTMAN: There is no delay. We just haven’t gotten the train to the station on time. The fact is, and I know there’s been a lot of speculation, that somehow there’s going to be a vote of some sort, conditional or otherwise, at the June Board meeting. That is absolutely not true. There will be an update. There is a process we go through, and that question we got frequently while we were going through the process with Las Vegas.

There are a number of bases we have to touch, a lot of due diligence that has to be done, a lot of interaction with the prospective ownership group, David Bonderman’s group, and so we think we’re on target, and depending on how everything goes, it wouldn’t surprise me that there is a possibility that in the fall, early winter at the latest, that this could be addressed by the board. But we’re not there yet, and there’s still work to be done.

BILL DALY: There’s never really been a timetable, so I don’t view us to be behind anything. Really, again, it’s really their timetable with respect to how quickly they want to move this.

GARY BETTMAN: And nobody should read into the timing of it. Again, the building still has to be renovated, so there’s plenty of time to deal with the issues that have to be dealt with.

Q. On Seattle, they’re hoping to have the building ready for September-October 2020, which happens to coincide with the potential for a lockout or a work stoppage. Is there any vested interest in trying to sit down at the table with the players ahead of time to avoid that kind of scenario?
GARY BETTMAN: Putting aside the Seattle issue, there’s always good reason to see if we can work with the Players’ Association and ensure labor peace and stability for the game and our fans and the players and all the people that work at the clubs. We would love nothing more than to have an extended runway out of labor peace, and anything we can do to achieve that on a more than timely basis would be great.

BILL DALY: Having nothing to do with Seattle at all.

Q. Gary, you’ve been clear that the same expansion rules would be in place if there was another team, but I’m wondering in the course of your conversations, have you gotten much push-back from other owners about what’s happened here in Vegas?
GARY BETTMAN: No push-back whatsoever. I think people are excited. I think it’s gotten their attention. You know, let’s take a step back, because in anticipation of this gathering, I had our communications department pull out a lot of the commentary that surrounded both the expansion draft and the start of the season. Nobody saw this coming. And obviously George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon have done an outstanding job. I think clubs have learned a lot. There was a lot of talent that maybe wasn’t being utilized to their fullest extent, but it’s been exciting, and we needed to make the team more competitive at the outset than prior expansions because we’re in the salary cap era. This was the first expansion in the salary cap era, and as we afford all of our clubs an opportunity to be competitive, it wouldn’t have made any sense to not have the expansion team the same way.

You know, there are lots of reasons that people have speculated about why this team is playing as well as it is, and you all heard me over the years talk about it, not the least of which I think may be the emotional tie that October 1 brought to this community and to this team, and on some level the players on the Golden Knights. Whether it’s because they were let go by their teams or because of Vegas Strong, they seem to be playing with an emotion for a higher purpose. Nobody knows, but there hasn’t been any push-back. I think it’s been intrigue and excitement.

Q. Gary, you mentioned China and the NHL’s continued international agenda or calendar. Thinking about the Olympics and having missed this past winter, is there anything to update and maybe a strategy that might push renewed participation forward?
GARY BETTMAN: We continue to talk with the Players’ Association who are our partners on international matters about the games we play internationally, whether in Europe or whether in Asia. We continue to explore the possibilities of additional World Cups and other international events that we conduct, and from our standpoint, we don’t have any regrets about not being at the Olympics in Korea. To the contrary, there were some great team streaks and individual streaks. The season was not disrupted the way other Olympics have, and I guess if you’re a fan in Germany, you probably like the fact that we weren’t there. Do you want to add to that?

BILL DALY: No. Certainly no negative impact on the NHL season.

Q. You must have heard what Mr. Jacobs said about Quebec City two weeks ago. Without being critical, he sounds like he doubts that Quebec City has the potential to support a franchise. What I would like to know is does it reflect the position of the NHL about Quebec City?
GARY BETTMAN: I believe it reflects the position of Mr. Jacobs. We didn’t have any discussions about that. That may be his individual opinion that he might have concerns about the market, but those concerns, if we go back into an expansion process involving Quebec City, might be dispelled. If there’s ever an opportunity to have another expansion vote on Quebec City or anywhere, it requires a three-quarters vote of all governors, and they’ll express their views at the time. I wouldn’t read anything more into his comments than that may be his view at any particular time.

BILL DALY: And consistent with comments he’s made in the past.

Q. But the fact is that he’s a big name. He’s been there for, what, 43 years, I think. He’s the chairman of the Board of Governors. Am I wrong? I think he has a big input.
GARY BETTMAN: He has one vote, equal to the other clubs, and he may have an opinion, but in the final analysis, on important business matters, each club, each governor, decides, having reviewed all of the facts and circumstances and whatever materials are put together, will make a decision at the time, if a decision is actually going to be made at all.

Q. For both of you, the prevailing question that’s being asked of the Golden Knights it seems the past week is when did you know you were good. Not so much the on-ice product. Was there a time or a moment when either you spoke together or from afar that you knew there was something unique going on in the market, not necessarily what was going on on the ice, but when you knew something special was going on in this market?
BILL DALY: I would say in terms of the market, I think we knew that from early on. I mean, even before the team started playing, as early as the team name being announced, the fact that 4,000, 5,000 people showed up in the plaza for the announcement of a team name, really not something I certainly had ever experienced before. There was a lot of enthusiasm in the market. So I think in terms of the market being a good market for NHL hockey, for professional sports generally, I think we knew that very early on. I’ll stop there.

GARY BETTMAN: You know what, I’m not sure that there was one moment where the lights went on. That was a good moment in terms of the building blocks. The season ticket drive was an outstanding response, when the organization was being built and going into the marketplace and soliciting team sponsors. Every benchmark along the way had been positive, including the naming.

Q. With the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down paths to legalize sports gambling across the country, does the league support a push for federal legislation to now deal with this issue? And some of the leagues have also supported the idea of what’s been termed an integrity fee, and does the league support that, as well?
GARY BETTMAN: Two responses, and I’ll see if Bill wants to add to that. The first is we’re looking for consistency. Whether that can be done federally, which would make it easier to make sure the rules of the game, the types of bets that are being placed, how things are being conducted, we’d like consistency, and we’d like not to have it vary state by state. Now, if all the states want to come together and do the same thing, that would be the equivalent of federal legislation, and that’s something that we’re focused on.

You know, we have -- I’m not sure I buy the term integrity fee. I don’t worry about the integrity of our players. I think, though, if you’re going to allocate for yourself to run a business on our intellectual property and the performance of our athletes and the platform that we put on for our games, we’re entitled to be involved in that.

Q. Building off that last question, in terms of player tracking data and puck tracking data, do you anticipate on partnering with gambling operators in that regard, or is it more something that, like you said, that’s the league’s IP and that could be assessed as a royalty?
GARY BETTMAN: Well, two things in that. One, when we started experimenting and developing and investing in player and puck tracking, which based on the speed and action in our game has been no easy feat, but we’re getting closer, it was not in anticipation of betting on our game. If, in fact, that does provide data that might provide for interesting betting, if all the circumstances are right, we’d have to look at it. But we’re not going to give it away.

Q. Thirteen of your 31 teams have never won the Stanley Cup. Four have never played for it. To those markets tonight, with an expansion team starting a quest for the Stanley Cup, what would you say to fans in those places tonight?
BILL DALY: Look, I did read your article from yesterday. My own view on this is it’s a positive story for hockey. It’s a positive story for the National Hockey League. There’s no doubt about that. You know, it’s a variety of circumstances that you have to rely on to make it this far, and it’s the nature of sports to win and to lose over time, and there’s a variety of factors that go into that. That doesn’t mean you stop trying. That doesn’t mean you stop trying to make your team as good as it can be, and maybe sometimes the pucks go your way, sometimes they don’t. I think the Capitals are a good example of having had misfortune over a number of years, and this year maybe it looks a little bit differently.

It’s the nature of sports. It’s what makes sports special, and I don’t view the fact that an expansion team has been able to do all the right things and has been competitive and has gotten to the Stanley Cup Final to be really a comment on other teams at all.

GARY BETTMAN: I didn’t read your article, and I apologize, but let me just add, this is the magic of sports. Anything can happen. And if you look at our game in particular, because anything can happen, you have hope. That’s what we try to give all of our fans no matter who you root for every season. It’s how Colorado can change its finish by 47 points in one year. It’s how Colorado and New Jersey can make the Playoffs from being last in their conference.

There have been droughts in other sports, some of them going over 100 years. That’s part of the emotion, the intrigue. It’s what makes sports special, and the beauty of sports is there’s always next season.

Q. There certainly recently was some internal upheaval at the executive level in Buffalo, and Kim Pegula is now in the president’s chair. It’s a unique situation in the league. It’s been a long time to have a woman in that spot. How significant is her role going to be? We’ve seen her do a lot of things with NFL committees. How intrigued are you by her role, and specifically how much will you be working with her and that franchise as they move forward on what seems to be a burgeoning arena issue there?
GARY BETTMAN: The city of Buffalo is fortunate to have the Pegulas investing so heavily in the city, in the Bills, in the Sabres and all the construction that they’ve done in the city itself. They are passionate, and they are committed. Kim has been, since she and Terry bought the team, she’s been a regular attendee of Board of Governors meetings. In fact, she, I think, attends more than Terry does, which is similar to what we see from Susan Samueli, with Henry Samueli in Anaheim.

I think the fact that she personally is getting more involved is a positive for both franchises and for the cities. It doubles down on their commitment, and I think they’ll get things straightened out to everybody’s satisfaction. And so we have worked with her in the past, and we look forward to having her more involved.

Q. Daniel Alfredsson was quoted in Ottawa today saying he hopes that Eugene Melnyk sells the team. I know this has been a long process and Mr. Melnyk has done some of the town halls, but how concerned are you with the relationship between the fan base and the owner, especially with the arena talks going on?
GARY BETTMAN: Well, let’s deal with this on a couple levels. One, I can tell you for sure that the franchise is not for sale. Eugene Melnyk is committed to the Senators and is passionate about them. And two, what I found more intriguing about the article was there was no direct quote from somebody who’s not with the organization that was supposedly off the record. So I’m prepared to let it go.

Q. Just curious regarding CTE. Do you still maintain your position that there is not enough science or it’s not precise enough to know whether there is a link between concussions and CTE?
GARY BETTMAN: I’m not going to start another news cycle. There’s nothing new on the subject. Do you want to answer that?

BILL DALY: No. I mean, I think the only thing I’d clarify, again, is this is not the commissioner’s view, it’s the science view, so all we’re doing is reiterating what the scientists have concluded, which is that there’s not enough information to draw that link.

Q. One of the things that Mr. Foley added to his project was the broadcast in Spanish. How important is it for the NHL to reach the rest of the ethnic groups in their own language?
BILL DALY: I think it’s critical, and I think more and more of our franchises are reaching out and expanding their fan base that way, and it was always something that was a priority for this franchise, and they’ve done a fabulous job reaching out to that community.

GARY BETTMAN: Just another indication of what ownership here is doing in terms of touching all the right bases and doing everything in a first-class way.

Q. Gary, your reception when you hand out the Cup in all the other cities has been less than stellar. Do you think that if Vegas --
GARY BETTMAN: I get booed? I get an emotional enthusiastic reaction.

Q. Do you think if Vegas were to win the Cup that the crowd here would treat you differently because you were instrumental in you bringing them their team, so to speak?
GARY BETTMAN: That would be interesting, but if you were here on November 22nd over a year ago, a year and a half ago, when I was introduced when we announced the name of the team, the 5,000 people as I was walking up to the podium started booing, and my reaction -- I was chuckling as you are, and my reaction was, “I want to thank you for that reception; you just proved to me you’re ready to be an NHL city.”

Q. Frank, what are you going to be doing?
FRANK BROWN: I’m going to be an attentive husband and a doting grandfather.

GARY BETTMAN: We wish you well. Thank you all for being here. We’re excited to see how the Final unfolds, and I’m sure we’ll see you as we move from city to city. Thank you.

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