Before the Phoenix Coyotes took on the Anaheim Ducks in southern California, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman met up with a few members of the media on Tuesday night. He tackled a wide range of issues from the Coyotes ownership situation to realignment to the upcoming collective bargaining process. Here’s a complete transcript of the meeting…
Question:Any update on the Phoenix Coyotes ownership situation?
Gary Bettman: “We’re still working on it. Our hope is that we can bring it to a conclusion in the not too distant future.”
Question:Anything on the backburner as far as potential owners?
Gary Bettman: “Nothing imminent. But it’s still being worked on. It’s still a work in progress and there’s no significant development that I’m in position to report.”
Question:This must be wearing on you though…
Gary Bettman: “You do what you have to do. We think we’re doing the right thing. We have had tremendous support by the city of Glendale and it’s a complicated process. And it’s one we’re going to continue to pursue.”
Question:When you say ‘bring it to a conclusion,’ do you mean in Phoenix?
Gary Bettman: “Our goal is to bring it to a conclusion in Phoenix. If, in fact, we don’t have an alternative, we’ll deal with it. But we’re not at that point.”
Question:Obviously it’s a goal otherwise we wouldn’t have kept it there that long…
Gary Bettman: “Well, in part because we’ve had great support from the city of Glendale who has a large investment in the arena; and indirectly in the team. As a result, we’re trying to do our share to make it work with them.”
Question:Is the top going to dry off with Glendale after this year?
Gary Bettman: “We haven’t had that discussion. If I were speculating, that would be my guess and at some point, if we can’t get it resolved for next year, then obviously I think we’ll have to consider our alternatives—but that’s not new news.”
Question:Is realignment something that’s tabled for now and will be picked up with the union in the offseason or at a later date?
Gary Bettman: “The most significant thing I can say about that is the governors were overwhelming in support of the plan. It’s something that we, as a league, thought was the right thing to do for our fans, for the team, for the game. But we made the decision based on the position that the union was taking to try not to be confrontational right now. But ultimately, our goal will be to be to implement the will of the board [of governors].
Question:What were the Union’s biggest concerns?
Gary Bettman: “I don’t want to characterize what their biggest concerns may or may not have been. You’ll have to discuss it with them. We think it was a perfectly sensible and reasonable plan. But the union obviously didn’t agree; and as I said, we just didn’t think this was a sensible time to be confrontational so we said we won’t implement it now.”
Question:Any sense when they want to start the collective bargaining?
Gary Bettman: “Well, Don Fehr has repeatedly said that he wouldn’t be ready until after the All-Star [weekend].
Question:Which is two weeks away…
Gary Bettman: “Well, OK. But he said we wouldn’t be ready BEFORE All-Star weekend. But my guess is that at some point in the next few weeks, we’ll probably sit down—assuming the union is comfortable doing that. There’s a pretty steep learning curve in terms of the business from the union’s standpoint, what the players are focused on, and we’ve been respectful of that process. So whenever they’re ready, we’re ready. We’ve been ready.”
Question:Has Anaheim ever formally submitted a bid for an All-Star game?
Gary Bettman: “I’m drawing a little bit of a blank, to answer your question, if they’ve ever applied for an All-Star game. Somewhere in the back of my head, I think they have at some point. I could see having an All-Star game out here. This is obviously a desirable part of the country for people to travel to. There are lots and lots of hotels and facilities within shouting distance of this arena, and my guess is that at the right time, if the club wants it and it makes sense in turns of our schedule of events, that’s something that we’d be prepared to consider seriously.”
Question:LA has had one…
Gary Bettman: “We had one in LA in ’02. So southern California is obviously ripe and we’ve had a draft out here. There’s no question that this club and this area can host a major event. Maybe not an outdoor game, but one of the other events. [laughs] And that’s nothing against the area, the weather, I don’t think, would be conducive.”
Question:What is the status of the outdoor game? Close to making an announcement?
Gary Bettman: “Well, we’re working on the possibilities. If we were close to making the announcement, we’d make it! [laughs] We’re not in the position to make any announcements right now. If we get ourselves, and WHEN we get ourselves into that position, we’ll hold the press conference. I think we’re probably on a better timetable that we have been in prior years. I don’t think the announcement will hold until the summer. The things that we’re working on are closer than we’ve been at this point. But you have to remember, last year, we were a little bit delayed because we had three major events in three weeks. We had the two outdoor games and we had the All-Star game. So we weren’t really in a position to focus on it. But with All-Star [weekend] coming up in a couple of weeks, I think we’ll be able to move the time table up.
Question:Anything with a future Heritage Classic? Any Canadian teams calling you up for that?
Gary Bettman: “Listen, every club is interested in being involved in some way. Either hosting or participating. The event has taken on phenomenal proportions for a regular season game and it’s great to see. It’s a lot of fun. If you’ve never been to one, I recommend it to you because the experience is wild. Just seeing people that are absolutely thrilled to be there. There’s a buzz, there’s an excitement, and it’s a lot of fun to watch the players react to playing in that environment.”
Question:The Sacramento Kings look like they want to potential move into Honda Center in the future. Is that something that runs contrary to what the NHL would want?
Gary Bettman: “Well, it’s not an NHL preference issue. It’s really up to the owner of this building as to whether or not it makes sense. I don’t react to rumors. I’m not sure how much substance there is to that story. But in the final analysis, it would be the for the team and the landlord to see if they could reach an accommodation.”
Question:What did you take away from the last CBA negotiations to potentially avoid it this time around?
Gary Bettman: “I’m not sure it’s about learning lessons, because the lesson that everybody knows – and it’s not one you have to learn – is that you want to not have work stoppages. They’re not fun. They’re counter productive. But if, if you’re in a situation as we were where there were fundamental problems that had to be addressed, you have to address the problems. Because you can’t live with a dysfunctional system. And so, it’s not that we learned anything, it’s that we did what we had to do at the time and obviously, if you look back over the last six and a half seasons, the league is in a stronger position when we started collective bargaining on that agreement.”
Question:Do you see a need to completely rewrite this, or is it just enough to tinker?
Gary Bettman: “I am NOT going to discuss collective bargaining. The fact is, anything we have to say about collective bargaining, the system, the agreement, we’ll do it with the players association quietly.
“The fact is that we are having another terrific season, this will be another record breaking season for us—both in terms of revenues and attendance – so I don’t see any reason for anyone to be distracted by collective bargaining. Certainly not now.”
“Good try though.”
Question:Equipment issues. The game is getting so fast, the equipment is getting so much harder (and more protective), between that and visors, do you see any adjustments to be made in the near future?
Gary Bettman: “I think I’ve been on record for most of the 18 years you referred to as thinking that visors were a good idea. But that’s something the players association, at least to date, hasn’t agreed to.
“We have been very proactive on player safety. I know there are more concussions being reported, but that is in part a function of the fact that we are doing a much better job of reporting, diagnosing, and treating [concussions]. When you think about it, the education process that the league is going though – and the players – has changed the culture so that players are more willing to admit that they have had a concussion and get treated. I think that’s all very important.
“You know, we’ve been at this since ’97. We were the first sports league to do baseline testing, the first sports league to have protocols for diagnoses to return to play, the ‘quiet room’ protocol which no one has done, we’ve changed rules on more than one occasion, we have a department of player safety. We take this stuff very seriously and we’re going to continue looking at equipment. That’s one of the mandates that Brendan Shanahan has, but this is something we do in conjunction with the players association.”
Question:What do you think of the job that Shanahan has done?
Gary Bettman: “I think Brendan is doing a terrific job. He’s working extremely hard. I think this job is everything expected – and more. But I also think the players are hearing him and I think, particularly with the videos, there’s greater clarity as to what’s expected on the ice and what won’t be tolerated.
“He probably aged five years in the last five months… Well, it’s because he has an extremely difficult job. I think part of what’s happened is people have, on second look, given Colin Campbell a little more respect for the job that he did for 13 years in this field. This is a hard, hard job that he has. The decisions are hard and nobody is ever happy.”
“I think I’ve seen him [Campbell] smile more in the last five months than he has in the prior decade. But that’s to be expected.”
Question:Some of the players have a problem with the appellate process. They feel that if they are suspended, there’s no recourse.
Gary Bettman: “That’s not true. The collective bargaining agreement provides for an appellate process. The way it’s set up is that I have nothing to do with the initial stage; and so the appeal comes to me. Any player who has appealed it has gotten a fair appellate hearing. You can complain about anything you want, but this was a process that was negotiated in collective bargaining numerous times and we think it’s worked well.”