COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the Stanley Cup Final. Congratulations to the Los Angeles Kings and the New Jersey Devils for earning the right to be here.
We entered the last day of the regular season with 27 possible first?round playoff matchups, which is a testament to the competitive balance that we see in our game. It's also a testament to the two teams that remain: the Kings and the Devils. They are the champions of their respective conferences. Well done to both organizations.
The Kings and the Devils are obviously where 28 other clubs want to be at, this ultimate series of what has been another entertaining, exciting, and suspenseful season.
I congratulate the players, starting with Dustin Brown and Zach Parise. The coaches, starting with Peter DeBoer and Darryl Sutter. Management: Dean Lombardi and Lou Lamoriello.
Each club is four victories from the most revered trophy in sports, the one that without question is the hardest and most difficult to win.
With the excellence of the game, the skill and determination of the players, the remarkable competitive balance, and the outstanding support from our fans and our business partners, the 2011/12 season continued our strong growth and momentum.
During the regular season, we played to nearly 96% of capacity and attracted about 21.5 million people, and we're at nearly 102% of capacity for the playoffs.
In the face of what remains a challenged economy, we estimate that we did $3.3 billion worth of business, which is another record for revenues for us. I can't thank adequately our fans, business partners and broadcasters for all of their support.
In particular, in addition to the usual solid job by the CBC, TSN and RDS, we had a tremendous season with NBC Sports, which provided outstanding coverage. It is clear that the strategy of having every playoff game broadcast nationally in the United States created unprecedented interest.
In addition, we had record ad sales, record sponsorship activation, connecting our sponsors' brands with our brands and with our fans on a deeper level than ever before. We look forward to an even brighter future in traditional and non-traditional media.
We also look forward to finally beginning meetings with the Players' Association. The goal obviously is to reach a Collective Bargaining Agreement that can take the game and the business to even higher levels than have been reached over the past seven seasons.
For obvious reasons, I'm not going to go into any detail on this topic since we have yet to formally begin discussions with the Union. However, I understand that the Union is now prepared to begin talks and we're in the process of trying to set up dates.
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, and that is on the game.
Regarding on-ice matters, you may recall at last season's final, I announced the creation of the Department of Player Safety, headed by Brendan Shanahan. Brendan and his group focused on and prioritized player safety. While this is a process, it does appear to be working. Though I'm not at liberty to give you the specific numbers, we actually saw a decline, modest decline, in concussions during the 2011/2012 regular season and playoffs, the first time in three years this figure has declined, and this despite even more aggressive diagnosis and more conservative treatment.
Brendan and his group will remain focused on this issue and all aspects of player safety. While there remains work to be done, it is fair to say we are pleased with the progress and that player behavior is beginning to change. We have seen countless examples this season in which players have altered their path to a hit or to a play, and the fact is that with over 50,000 hits in a season, we're in the low double-digits of the ones we will continue to work to get out of the game.
In conclusion, before I take your questions, we feel good about where we are, and we're looking forward to an exciting, fun series. Thank you again for you all being here.
I'll take questions.
Q. Can you just give us an update, if there is one, on the Phoenix Coyotes situation.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Yes. I spoke to Greg Jamison early today. He continues to do the two things he needs to do to secure the future of the Coyotes where they are, in Arizona: One, working to conclude a set of documents with the City of Glendale on the building management situation. And he continues to put his equity together.
The City of Glendale I believe next week is supposed to vote on the management agreement. Once that's in place, I think Greg will be able to conclude hopefully the finalization of his equity raise.
Q. How quick do you expect that?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Well, the City of Glendale I believe is supposed to meet next week on that subject. So hopefully we're talking weeks.
Q. You mentioned that you reached out to the PA to start looking at dates.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Yes.
Q. What do you think the timeline would be if they're open to that?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: My guess is in the next few weeks we will begin, either in small groups or larger groups, to set the table of what we each might want to be talking about.
Q. Can you say with 100% certainty that the Coyotes will be in Phoenix next season?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I can't say anything with 100% certainty. I think the likelihood is, based on everything we know today, the process should conclude successfully, but it's not something I'm in a position to guarantee.
Q. Given the NHL's concern for environmental matters, will you champion a 2-3-2 format for the final?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: That's something that we've discussed with the managers over the years. From a competitive standpoint, the clubs like it the way it is. It's not something that anybody's raised recently.
Q. What is the New Jersey situation as far as ownership goes?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: The New Jersey situation, as we understand it, at its most up-to-date point is that the club, Jeff Vanderbeek, is working on both refinancing the debt on the club, and an equity raise. He appears to be fairly confident that he can pull this off in due course in the next few weeks.
Since I've been in touch with the banks on a regular basis, we seem to be on track.
Q. Since we're asking about clubs, do you have anything to update on the Islanders' situation?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: They do need a new building. That remains. Charles Wang, despite tremendous frustration, to be looking at all the options that would keep the club in the New York metropolitan area.
Q. Do you consider the Olympics simply to be a Collective Bargaining issue?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: No. I think there are a whole host of issues that relate to the competitiveness of our season and what the Olympic participation might do to that.
The benefits from the Olympics have to be evaluated as we balance it against the impact that it has. I think in that regard we have to take into account where the next two Winter Olympics are going to be.
Having said all that, I see this as joint problem solving that we need to do with the Players' Association. I don't think it's anything other than a joint issue, joint decision, that we need to do in the best interest of the game and the players.
Q. There seems to be some speculation, I know it's just speculation, that there will be a lockout next year, probably not the whole season, but a lot of people are saying American Thanksgiving being when things start up again. Is there any reason to believe that that will transpire or that you can get a deal done in time?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I don't understand both the speculation and the degree of negativity that it connotes considering we, meaning the League and the Players' Association, have yet to have a substantive discussion on what we may each be looking for in Collective Bargaining.
If somebody is suggesting it, it's either because there's something in the water, people still have the NBA and NFL on the brain, or they're just looking for news on a slow day. It is nothing more than speculation at this point. There can't be any substance to it because there haven't been any substantive conversations.
Q. You announced Winnipeg a year ago tomorrow.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Yes. Happy anniversary to Winnipeg.
Q. Knowing how well they were prepared to take on a team, how difficult it still was under that much time, if Phoenix doesn't close in the next little while, will you remain there for another year? Do you have to at this point?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: We haven't worked on a Plan B for Phoenix. Our hope and expectation, going back to the earlier question, is this will get done. If it doesn't, we'll have to deal with it at the time. But it's not anything we're focused on at this time.
Q. Would it be possible for the League to run the team one more year in Phoenix?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Again, since you now know, if you didn't know it before, I'm not a big fan of speculation. We haven't figured out what we would do in the event what we hope will happen doesn't happen. So in that event, we'll focus in on it at the time and deal with it at the time. But the hope is Mr. Jamison can do what he's working on and get it done. And we wouldn't want to suggest or undercut that effort.
Q. I've heard you say this CBA was never meant to last the seven years. Could you expand on exactly why that is?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: A little bit of history for people. We originally agreed, coming out of the work stoppage, this would be a six-year deal. The Players' Association at the time was concerned about how they would like the system. So we agreed if they wanted to shorten it to four years, they could. We also agreed that if they liked the system, they could extend it a year.
There are probably a host of things, from a day-to-day standpoint at least, that both we and the Players' Association need to focus on. Seven years is a long time for a deal to be in place.
During that time we've seen the game grow. We've seen incredible competitive balance. We've seen revenues set records each year. But that doesn't mean that there aren't going to be adjustments that each of us want to look at. I don't think it was ever contemplated that the agreement would ever be more than seven years.
Q. So you had to balance that against the fact you have had this labor peace?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: It's been great. We love labor peace.
Q. Do you think the players Union, had you not opened negotiations, they would have done it?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: This would require me to speculate what the Players' Association might or might not have done. You would have to ask Don whether or not that's something they would have done. I don't know.
Q. The climate going into this negotiation doesn't seem as, for lack of a better term, hopeless. It was hopeless. Everybody knew there would be a work stoppage of some length. You mention the League is in better position right now. I think the players certainly aren't hurting. Do you agree this is something that may be able to be worked out a little easier?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I don't want to be presumptuous and characterize where we may or may not be right now because we haven't begun the formal exercise.
But if you go back in history, one of the reasons we wound up where we did, people who were covering us at the time, remember, we had told the executive director then of the Union, at least four years in advance, the systemic problems that had become obvious to us at the time, and we were struggling mightily for a long period of time. At that point the Union was aware of it and chose to do nothing about it.
We're in a completely different situation. There's a new executive director who has gotten himself up to speed, new people, new relationships. Time will tell how this all sorts out.
I'm hopeful that it sorts out easily because labor peace is preferable to the alternative.
Q. Can you update us on the Raffi Torres appeal process? Are you satisfied that the appeal process, as it stands, is a workable one?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I think the appeal process works quite well because most of you don't know this, while Brendan Shanahan administers commissioner discipline, as it's called, the fact is, I don't get involved in the decisions that he makes, in large part because that's what we require under our system and our procedures because any appeal will come to me, and I hear it on a de novo basis without deference to the original decision.
Mr. Torres sent us a notice of appeal about two weeks after the original decision was rendered. We promptly scheduled an in?person hearing, which he requested. I now have to write an opinion, which I will do, am doing, but there are a couple of other things going on. Since Phoenix's season is over, the timing of this isn't quite as imperative as if the Coyotes were still playing. But in the not-too-distant future, I'll issue an opinion.
Q. There was a story in today's New York Post saying the L.A. Kings are supposedly for sale. Could you comment on that?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: It never ceases to amaze me when a newspaper writes a story and the principals involved absolutely deny it, and they could be the only source. But The Post was told by Tim Leiweke and by us that the story was categorically untrue, the Kings were not for sale. But they said they had their own sources and they decided to go with the story anyway. Okay, the story is not true.
If anybody here is from The Post, I apologize if I offend you, but the story is not true.
Q. You mentioned record revenues. How does that translate into profits? This time last year when the NBA was going through their labor issues, losses of about $300 million were at issue.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: We're not having that discussion. Revenues and the business continue to grow. The economic state of the League and the franchises is something we will discuss in Collective Bargaining first and foremost.
Q. Do you have any expectation that the Devils' July 1st debt date could be extended?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: That's not the due date. It's after that. So at least to your way of thinking, it's been extended by virtue of this conversation (laughter).
Q. On the Devils, as well. What is the deadline for the Devils to inform the League about the first-round pick and the Kovalchuk decision?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I don't have that on the top of my head. One way or another, they'll have to do that. Central registry has that.
Q. You mentioned the player discipline department. There's been, amongst the fans, some inconsistencies there in the playoffs. What is your level of satisfaction with that this post?season?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: For as long as I've been doing this job, and I watched Brian Burke do it, I watched Colie Campbell do it, I've now watched Brendan Shanahan do it, there's never unanimous agreement on what is done from a supplemental standpoint. I would suggest in this era of social media where everybody has a platform and an opinion to express, the level of discourse has risen to new heights.
My guess is also that with what we've done this year, what Brendan has done with the videos, his attempt to change the culture in terms of what's acceptable or not to be safer for the players, this has been turned into more of an event than we would like, because of the videos, among other things.
I think that's okay in terms of the passion of our fans and who they root for and how they weigh in. I think it's been a good thing in terms of helping the players understand what is and isn't acceptable.
This is a long-winded way of saying I think Brendan is doing a terrific job in what is perhaps the most difficult and thankless job we have. And he's assisted by Rob Blake and Stephane Quintal and people from Hockey Operations get to weigh in. We have literally hundreds of years of hockey experience weighing in to give Brendan feedback.
So while the decision is his, there's no shortage of expertise looking at all of these issues.
Q. For the past few years, Wayne Gretzky, the greatest player in NHL history according to many, he's kept his distance, been out of the spotlight in terms of hockey. That may be entirely his choice. I'm not asking you to speak on behalf of him. From your standpoint, do you believe there has to be some form of mending of the fences, and would you like to see that happen before there can be more of a marriage between the NHL and Wayne Gretzky?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: If you're suggesting there's a gulf or a divide, I'm not sure I agree with that. Wayne and I communicate on a regular basis. I'm hoping to see him in Los Angeles when we're out for the games. He was fairly active until he stopped coaching the Coyotes.
So I'm not sure that a 'mending' is the right description. I think when Wayne is more desirous, more comfortable being more involved, I think that's great. He's an important icon of this game, a great ambassador of the game. I can't even quantify what he's meant to this game both on and off the ice.
Whatever he wants to do, I'm completely supportive of. The closer he is to the game, the more I like it.
Q. The television landscape is dramatically different from 2004 to 2012. How much does that tremendous success help the equation?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I assume you're talking about the United States - as important as the deal we made with the NBC Sports Group was from a financial standpoint, the coverage that we're getting, pre- and postgame shows, the scheduling, the promotion, the fact that for the first time in our history in the United States, every game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs was televised nationally, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, it has created a level of buzz, interest, fan interaction that we've never seen before.
If I'm not mistaken, our viewership on television in the United States this season in playoffs is the highest it's been in 15 or 16 years. I think it was a dramatic, important step forward. We are thrilled with the NBC relationship. We think they're just treating the game great.
I look forward to seeing you over the next few days, maybe couple of weeks, both here and Los Angeles. Thanks for being here and enjoy the final.