Commissioner Gary Bettman met Saturday with the South Florida media before the Panthers played the Devils. The following is a partial transcript.
*Bettman on his opening night trips to London, Chicago, New York, etc…
“London was great. The crowds were terrific. You may not recall this but we announced (the games) and were sold out in a couple weeks. It was a very interesting crowd in terms of the mix. There were people from Southern California, both Kings and Ducks fans. Lots of Brits, of course. Lots of Canadian and U.S., ex-pats, and tons of NHL jerseys. Not just Ducks and Kings. A lot of Europeans had come in from various parts of Europe wearing native jerseys. The O2 (Arena) was terrific. We still need to debrief but it worked pretty much worked the way we thought it would and hoped it would.
“I was in Chicago for Bill Wirtz’s funeral. The league will miss him. I was in Toronto on opening night on Wednesday. They played Ottawa. I was at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, as were some of you. It was a good Panther game for two periods (laughing). Something happened in the third period. I’m still trying to figure out if one team got hot or one team got flat or whether or not it was a combination. It was an interesting game. And I was in Atlanta last night where they raised the banner.
*Bettman on the the importance of the Thrashers winning.
“I think some of the so-called newer teams understand the cycles and building. You have to do it in building blocks, and that’s what they’ve been doing in Atlanta. They got themselves playoff competition last year. I think. it was a good learning experience for the team being in the playoffs. But there was a great deal of enthusiasm in support of the team. The building (Friday) was terrific.”
*Bettman on whether he expected the enthusiasm Saturday at BankAtlantic.
“Yes. Listen, this is a team that is stockpiled with some terrific young players. Weiss, Horton, Bouwmeester…the list goes on. And I think the acquisition of (Tomas) Vokoun over the summer has people very focused on this team and very excited. When you add to the young people a seasoned captain like (Olli) Jokinen, it’s a good mix. I think Jacques Martin has been patient and is doing it the right way.”
*Bettman on the increase in fighting during the preseason.
“You are statistically correct. It’s very difficult with any element of the game to take a snapshot. Two seasons ago, when we first came back from the work stoppage and made all the rule changes, fighting was at it lowest point in 35 years. Then it increased a little bit and everyone said, ‘Fighting is up.’ Well, it was up from the lowest point. I’m not saying it’s good or it’s bad. It is what it is. I think part of what we saw in the preseason was a lot of teams were focused on the physical play of the Stanley Cup champions. But I think what will tell the tale or not will be what happens in the regular season in the course of the 1,230 game schedule.
“But despite what is sometimes suggested, we don’t regulate the fighting where we turn dial and we get more and we turn the dial the other way and we get less. Fighting is part of the game and it ebbs and flows on the way the game is played. I’m not particularly concerned one way or another. The thing we were concerned about in the off-season was targeting the head. We had an incident in the preseason and we dealt with it.”
*Bettman on the sniping going on between management in Edmonton and Anaheim.
“Our managers tend to be passionate. I think it’s probably run its course and that’s OK with me.”
*Bettman on the ownership situation in Nashville.
“The ownership situation, for some reason, was being portrayed last week, particularly when I was up in Toronto, as being in some sort of crisis. It’s still on track to get done…they’re in discussions with the city in terms of the lease. And while everyone suggested the wheels fell off the bus, they hadn’t. Doesn’t mean they might not at some point, but that’s not something I have any reason to believe, as I’m with you today, is a problem or an iassue. It’s not done. It needs to continue to progress to get done, but there’s no reason for anyone to believe there’s a problem.”
*Bettman on expansion and interest from cities for an expansion franchise.
“There are some new arenas that are interested in having teams and we’ve gotten numerous expressions of interest…There are a bunch of cities, they’ve been publicly chronicled as Winnipeg, Kansas City, Seattle, Las Vegas, and probably a couple of others I’m omitting who’ve expressed interest in expansion. We’re not at the present time prepared to go through a formal expansion process. We’ve really got to think about what it is, if anything, we might want to do. But we’re not, as we sit here today, going through a formal expansion process.
“And at the current time no one is a candidate for relocation, which is what causes a lot of confusion. Whatever has been said or will be said about Nashville, they have a long-term lease. It goes for more than 20 years and I think over the summer people lost track of that. Now there is a provision of the lease where if they don’t average 14,000 paid this year the lease may terminate. But that’s not anything anybody can count on happening and everyone is working very hard to prevent that from happening. While we deal with franchises that have problems, we have a history of dealing with them pre the work stoppage.
“Ottawa was in bankruptcy, we worked to save the Senators in Ottawa. Buffalo was in bankruptcy, we worked to save the Sabres in Buffalo. Pittsburgh was in bankruptcy, we worked to save the Penguins. I know this is a long list, but I’m making a point. Edmonton, when they got into trouble and the banks were foreclosing, we worked to get it done. We always try to make it work where we have a franchise. We do everything we can to try and fix the problem. As part of that, when your trying to fix a franchise’s situation, you don’t while your in the middle of that process start focusing on what’s next. The what’s next comes only when you conclude it’s done…If we were to have either a relocation or engage in a formal expansion franchise, we’d consider applications from anyone who is interested.”
*Bettman on whether Las Vegas would be considered.
“We’re small potatoes on the sports book. If we were considering going to Vegas, we’d have to focus on that issue. But my guess is it isn’t nearly the issue for us as it would be for someone else.”
*Bettman on changing the NHL schedule next year.
“What’s interesting about the schedule is when we came back from the work stoppage, we had record attendance…which is a testament to the strength of the game and how terrific our fans are. So when we came back we wanted to focus on the rivalries of the division, which is why we went to the schedule we did. The result was two years in a row of record attendance.
“In all the research we done, more than a majority, probably 60 percent of our fans, like the schedule the way it is. But the 40 percent who don’t are really pretty vocal about it, and we respect it. I think they’re more passionate in their view than the 60 percent. So clearly we need to make an adjustment.
*Bettman on New Jersey starting the season with a nine game road trip.
“We accommodated the club’s date availability. If they do well on this road trip, the rest of the season will be a piece of cake.”