Gary Bettman has given his 2007 edition of the state of the National Hockey League. In it, were some very interesting statements, and like any other good Public Relations person, he tried to put the best face forward of the NHL. While he didn’t out rightly lie, he did mislead people just slightly.In the state of the NHL, we learned the fate of the unbalanced schedule, an update on the Pens situation, where the league stands today, and finally he did answer the rumors about possible expansion. What did Bettman have to say?
We start with what seems to be the source of all the controversy this season, the unbalanced schedule. Players hate it, fans are cheated out of good matches and players, and the general managers aren’t too happy about it either. This concern was brought up at the last Board of Governors meeting. The pre-lockout schedule needed just one more vote to pass, failing by a nineteen to eleven margin.
On the matter, Bettman said, “The fact is there wasn’t enough support from the clubs to make a change, which leads me to conclude, because we’re in the middle of a three-year rotation, a number of clubs only thought it fair to conclude it. And sometimes people lose sight of the fact that while some of you think I throw lightning bolts, the fact is I do report to a Board. And the Board on certain things has the final say. Actually, ultimately, the Board on anything it wants can have final say. But I’m comfortable that finishing the three-year rotation is the right thing to do.”
He is right; the Board of Governors employs Bettman. Hence, it is up to them whither or not we see a new schedule. The measure failed, even though it was by one vote, therefore the current schedule stays in place. Also, because the measure failed, it cannot come up again for a vote before the three-year rotation is over.
Afterwards, he did address the Pittsburgh situation. He remains hopeful that the Pens will stay, but adds, “We’ve got a schedule to do. Arrangements have to be made. My hope is that a building on terms that make sense to the franchise will be achievable in Pittsburgh and this will become a non-issue. But at some point in the not too distant future, in a matter of weeks, we have to start focusing with some certainty on what the schedule is going to look like. Time is of the essence, but I wouldn’t want to overly portray urgency today. It’s urgent, but it’s not imminently urgent, if you know what I mean. It will be shortly.”
That’s believable; the NHL has done everything to keep the team in Pittsburgh, even scarring off one potential owner because they are adamant about keeping the team there. However, Ed Rendell and the Pens owners have to come up with a compromise fast. If there were a guess to be made, it would have to be by the middle of March, possibly late March. No one is going to get their way, that’s the only logical conclusion at this point in time.
On the front of the Russian IIHF controversy, Bettman noted, “I’ve been busy the last 18 hours since we got the proposal. So I haven’t seen it in its entirety. Bill [Daly] tells me it’s interesting. It probably needs some work. But we haven’t had a chance to discuss it. We’ve been waiting for a while. It can wait until tomorrow, until I get done doing what we’re doing here. But I do take it as a good sign that on some basis, even though I don’t know what it is, the Russians are indicating a willingness to participate.”
What does interesting mean Mr. Bettman? Given the latest two problems with players, why would the Russians even come to the table? At this point, you can’t possibly think this could be good for the NHL. Put your points on the Russians getting a favorable deal, with the Europeans to follow soon.
On expansion, Bettman did comment about Kansas City. The question was asked about if a deal does get done where the Pens can stay, would Kansas City be a possible expansion location?
“That’s an interesting question,” Bettman quipped, “because that presumes we’ve looked into it with any degree of diligence. We have, over the last year, received expressions of interest from a number of cities. And we haven’t done anything with that. We’ve been focused on dealing with the franchises that we have. I know from Tim [Leiweke] that there’s a very nice new building there. But we’re focused on having 30 healthy teams right now, where they are. So we haven’t looked at a lot of people and said, ‘Well, what if Pittsburgh doesn’t get the building?’ The answer is, we’ll deal with the ‘what-if’ if it happens. We’re really focused on all the teams, including Pittsburgh, where they are.”
Bettman did go on to say that expansion is not anywhere in the immediate future. This is a smart move by the NHL. There is no need for expansion; contraction might be a better topic. However, Kansas City would make a good hockey market, and give St. Louis a natural rival. Maybe five or ten years down the road, if the NHL even exists then, could we talk about expansion, but right now, there was no need to even think about it.
The question of bigger nets was brought up. Bettman did say that there were no plans to expand the nets. Smart call, there is enough being done right now to increase offense and excitement. When we get pure consistency in the calls of obstruction, then we can talk about widening the nets.
There were other issues addressed as well, but curiously, the biggest topic that was left unaddressed is the strength of the game. Ratings are pretty pathetic. It’s not because Versus has done a horrible job. Their coverage blows ESPN’s old coverage out of the water. Oh, that’s for all twenty people who get Versus. ESPN left the NHL for a good reason; ratings are not there to justify ESPN having the product.
Why does ESPN shove college basketball and the NBA down our throats? They bring in advertising dollars. To be blunt, the Women’s NCAA Basketball tournament was higher rated then the last season the NHL was on ESPN. Sure, Internet traffic is up, and the NHL should be commended on the job it has done with the popular web site You Tube. They are thinking outside of the box, especially with their deal with HDNet. The problem with HDNet, not that many people in the US can afford high definition television just yet, therefore, not many people even know what HDNet is.
The main point of the state of the NHL is that the sport is growing. Bettman is right; this is a critical moment in the survival of the National Hockey League. They are heading on the right path, and seem to be ahead of the curve, but it’s still going to be a bumpy ride for the NHL.