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|Bettman addresses state of the NHL prior to Game 1|
|Written by Denis Gorman|
|Thursday, 31 May 2012 01:43|
With the puck dropping on the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday night, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman took the time to address the state of the league and, according to him at least, the state of the league is strong.NEWARK, N.J. — The NHL’s overall environment is healthier than at any point in its history.
That was NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s overriding point during his press conference at the Prudential Center two hours prior to the start of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
During his 22-minute press conference Bettman reported that the league earned $3.3 billion and had “96 percent capacity,” during the regular season. He noted that the attendance rose to “102 percent capacity” in the playoffs. Finally, Bettman said concussions fell “for the first time in three years,” which he attributed to Brendan Shanahan and his Department of Player Safety changing the culture of the game.
“The 2011-12 season continued our strong growth and momentum,” Bettman said. “I cannot adequately thank our fans, business partners and our broadcast [partners] for all of their support.”
Much of the press conference centered on the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations with the NHL’s Players’ Association.
The league opted out of the CBA two weeks ago and Bettman suggested that both sides may want to re-examine the CBA before announcing that negotiations should begin in the near future.
“We look forward to finally beginning meetings with the Players’ Association,” Bettman said. “The goal is obviously is to reach a Collective Bargaining Agreement that can take the game and the business to even higher levels than over the past seven seasons. It remains my hope that constructive negotiations can begin soon and culminate quickly so that attention can remain where it belongs and where everyone wants it to remain: That is on the game.”
When it was suggested that there is a public perception that the start of the 2012-13 season may be delayed due to a work stoppage, Bettman grew agitated.
“I don’t understand all the speculation and the degree of negativity that it connotes,” Bettman said. “We, meaning we and the Players’ Association, have yet to have a substantive discussion on what each may be looking for in collective bargaining.”
NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr acknowledged the players and owners do not operate under the same combative and confrontational environment as both groups did in 2004.
But Fehr added the “players recognize that they made enormous concessions in the last round of bargaining.”
He also added, somewhat ominously, that “in the NFL there was no question they had all profits, either, and they still locked the players out. We’ll see what happens when we get to that.”
Additionally, the commissioner offered updates on the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes.
The Eastern Conference champions have operated in financial limbo throughout the season. The organization also defaulted on its debt payment prior to the start of the season and the league floated the Devils a reported $10 million loan during the year.
Yet Bettman expressed confidence that owner Jeff Vanderbeek will be able to guide the team out of its financial sinkhole.
“Jeff Vanderbeek is working on refinancing the debt on the club and equity raise,” Bettman said. “[Vanderbeek] appears confident that he can pull this off in the next few weeks.”
He was less optimistic about the Islanders. Bettman took a shot at Nassau County, NY, when asked about the New York Islanders’ quest for a new arena.
“They need a new building,” Bettman said. “That hasn’t changed. Charles Wang continues despite the tremendous frustration to look at the options which would keep the club in the New York Metropolitan area.”
His strongest words were directed towards the New York Post for a report that the Kings were for sale.
“It never ceases to amaze me when a newspaper writes a story and the principles involved absolutely deny it, and they can be the only source,” Bettman said. “The Post was told both by Tim Leiweke and by [the league] that the story was categorically untrue; the Kings are not for sale. But they said they had their own sources so they decided to go ahead with the story. The story is not true.”
Photos by Getty Images