NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman led off his weekly radio show Thursday night by addressing the events of Wednesday night in Tampa Bay, where the game between the Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers featured multiple instances of the referees whistling play dead after the Flyers held the puck in their own zone for a prolonged period of time while the Lightning sat back in a 1-3-1 defensive formation -- with neither side willing to blink first.
"While we had an interesting night in Tampa, I'm not exactly sure it was the grand moment of the season that everybody's speculating," Bettman said, drawing laughter from his co-host, E.J. Hradek.
"I think it's been called an embarrassing moment -- we play 1,230 regular-season games, and in the course of seasons played things happen that are unusual, teams will do things that are unpredictable and unexpected, and the good news is the game has gotten to such a point from an entertainment and skill and excitement standpoint, I'm kind of enjoying the fact that there's some outrage when something that tries to take the game out of its normal flow gets this kind of reaction."
Bettman had a couple points to make regarding each team's tactics in the game, which was televised nationally in the United States on Versus.
"The notion of a trap goes back decades, probably to the '60s," he said. "The normal, the predictable, the traditional trap of a 1-2-2 is something we've lived with for years and even in the '90s and recently, teams that have won the Cup have done it playing some trapping. It's a tactic. OK, so Tampa, Guy Boucher uses a 1-3-1, a little bit different, and so Philadelphia decided that they were not going to attack the defense, but the defense wasn't going to attack the offense. They did it in Tampa's building, the fans reacted.
"Did I like it? No. Is it the most horrible thing I've ever seen on the ice? No. But I do think it has now added another agenda item to the general managers (meetings) next week. The officials whistled down play when there was no puck movement and it was appropriate. Do we need to eliminate the trap? You know, there are a lot of people who love the game the way it is who say no. If you're playing smart, tactical hockey, that's your prerogative and it's incumbent on the other team to figure out how to deal with it. By the same token, if this became too prevalent and too much of the game and too regular, then I think we'd have to deal with it, and we will."
Hradek asked Bettman if he felt the officials had handled the situation appropriately.
"I think under the circumstances they reacted appropriately," Bettman said. "It reminded me of when Sean Avery was waving his stick in front of Marty Brodeur, and they said, 'OK, we think that's unsportsmanlike conduct. We haven't seen that before, so it is unsportsmanlike but we're going to warn you and tell you if you keep it up, that's the penalty that we're going to call.' And that's what they did, and I think that's kind of what we're dealing with now.
"What we don't like to do is just make it up as we go along and not give any warning, and knee jerk. So on that basis, it's one of the things we deal with and we'll react and respond to it."
Nashville coach Barry Trotz, a guest on the show, offered his own take.
"The system that Tampa plays is a very patient system, and it's been around for 100 years. And Philly was basically trying to pull them out of their system," he said. "It was two stubborn individuals or two stubborn teams going, 'All right, I want you to play it our way,' and they're saying, 'We're going to make you play our way.'
"I think it's real difficult, as coaches we don't get a chance to play Tampa a lot and they play that very, very passive system with a great counterattack. That's their bread-and-butter. Coaches are starting to figure it out -- that's what we do. We dissect things, we figure it out. We played Tampa once, I think we did a really good job of dissecting what they do. Every system has a weakness. Every system has a strength. I think as coaches you have to accept what the other tactic is in terms of their system and then you have to try to exploit their weakness."