Hockey fans were tuning in to NHL Live! on Thursday in search of the latest-breaking news on the first day of free agency -- and Commissioner Gary Bettman was no different, other than the fact he was live in studio.
As he took a seat between hosts E.J. Hradek and Don LaGreca, with rumors running through the airwaves, the commissioner asked, "Do we know that information is true, or just a rumor?
"I came out of a meeting and came down here, so I can't confirm or deny anything."
Though Hradek and LaGreca didn't pump the commissioner for inside information, they quizzed him on several relevant free-agent topics, such as the process of a trade being filed at NHL headquarters.
"If there is an issue that has to be resolved, or a question that has to be answered that's important enough, I'll be consulted, but we have a staff of people that deal with these things in the ordinary course," he said. "I'll know that it's coming before it's publically announced, but we tend to not deal in speculation upstairs, but the reality of dealing with the clubs is something we do and we're very careful not to leak anything, not to announce anything because first and foremost it's for the clubs to announce."
When asked about the subject of tampering, Bettman said: "Despite what people think, this isn't a police state. We don't monitor everybody, we don't have the entire hockey operations world under lockdown. We believe that the people who work for the clubs, starting with the general managers, are people of integrity and they comply with the rules. If it turns out that somebody didn't comply with the rules, and we can prove it -- not speculate about it -- that's a different story.
"With respect to a deal coming down quickly, not so hard, in other words, to get on the phone and say, 'I'm a general manager, I want your player, I'm prepared to give him the following contact.' And the agent says, 'Well, I want X, Y and Z,' and they negotiate for two seconds or the club says, 'If you don't make the deal with me right now on the phone, I'm moving on to another player,' it can happen pretty quickly, which is why my guess is some of these contracts don't take longer than 10 minutes to negotiate and sign, although you never know, a club may in anticipation of trying to lock somebody up, may say we're going to call a certain agent at 12:01 p.m. ET, we're going to have the contract drafted, we're going to fax it over and he can sign it or not, but that's our offer and it's open for 15 minutes. I know some of it looks like it's more complicated than that, and if it is a more complicated contract, if we saw a contract that had all sorts of crazy clauses negotiated and our format doesn't really allow for that anymore, that would be a different story."
Bettman acknowledged that player-to-player contact is likely to happen, but clarified what is acceptable and what is tampering.
"They're not supposed to be doing indirectly for a club what a club can't do itself," he said. "Obviously, if one player is an unrestricted free agent and he's thinking about two or three different cities, not because they've approached him, but he's thinking about them, he's looked at their cap situation, he's looked at their roster, and he's thinking about 'is it a nice place to play, how is it to live in that city, what's the coach and GM like,' my guess is those conversations probably happen in the ordinary course they would during the regular season. Two buddies on two different teams go out for a get together and talk about their experiences that comes up, but in fact that the player is actually trying to do the recruiting and the negotiating -- would you come to us for X -- that they can't do."
At that point, LaGreca announced that NHL Insider Bob McKenzie confirmed defenseman Braydon Coburn
resigned with Philadelphia for two more years.
"Boy, he's very active, that McKenzie this morning," the Commissioner said.
"This is like the trade deadline. Holy cow!"
Bettman also recapped the NHL season in general, reporting that the League was happy with the fan interest.
"We had virtually, by any measure, a really strong, solid, good season, and that may even be an understatement," Bettman said. "And it all starts from the fact, I think everybody agrees to this, the hockey that was played, the competitive balance, the playoff races, the playoff matchups themselves and the various rounds of the playoffs were all spectacular. So our fans, and thank goodness we're grateful for them, connected in record numbers on NHL.com -- unique visitors were up over 30 percent. We had incredibly high ratings on the networks in the U.S. and Canada. For all the time we spent building Versus and the criticism we took, I think more people watched the first two rounds on cable on Versus, network-wide going back to 1994, so people know where Versus is, people like the coverage, the distribution is good. NBC obviously had a great Stanley Cup Final. Game 6 was the highest-rated game in the Stanley Cup Final in the United States since 1994. This was a very strong season. Revenues went up, which is why the cap went up, and season ticket sales and sponsorship renewals going into next season already are very strong."
Bettman also addressed the topic of the NHL's successful participation in the 2010 Winter Olympics and the probability of shutting down the League and allowing NHL players to participate in the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.
"Obviously, playing in the Olympics in Vancouver, in North America, having it with Canada vs. the U.S., is the most impactful that you can be, and this year the Olympics were great," Bettman said. "The record television numbers you saw for the gold medal game indicted how good it was. The good news about it is, what people saw in the Olympics was NHL hockey. It was an NHL arena, it was NHL ice, NHL rules, NHL players, NHL officials, it was our game. It felt like the playoffs.
"Going halfway around the world isn't the same thing, especially when you don't know what the outcome is going to be. We had the experience in Nagano, Japan, we had the experience in Torino, Italy. Those experiences were not as beneficial as Salt Lake City or Vancouver. The Olympics aren't all good or all bad. It's a balancing act that puts a hardship on our game, on our fans, on our season, on our players, and it's something that we're going to have to figure out over time with the Players' Association. Again, there's no rush."
NHL Live! can be heard every Monday through Friday from noon-2 p.m. on NHL Network, XM Radio and NHL.com.