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Bettman's 'State of the Game' Remarks

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman met with the media during the 2003 NHL All-Star weekend in Sunrise, Florida to discuss the NHL and many issues, challenges and problems that the league is facing.

Below are excepts from the Commissioner's address.

I would like to welcome all of you to South Florida to the 2003 NHL All-Stars weekend which is presented by Nextel, and I want to thank and express my appreciation for the hospitality and hard work of Alan Cohen and Bill Torrey the entire Florida Panthers organization.

They have put a tremendous effort into making this weekend into a tremendous success. I would also like to thank Alan and Bill for the weather. The Panthers promised good weather when we agreed to schedule the game here, and it's an added benefit that I appreciate, along with the 6,000 or so hockey fans, members of media, NHL family, and other visitors who have come to South Florida, and we believe that in the course of this weekend the spending will be -- the economic impact will be somewhere in between $15- to $18 million in connection with all the various activities around South Florida and at the Office Depot Center.

I also want to thank the community, in particular all of the volunteers who have devoted lots of time and energy to making us all feel so welcome. I want to congratulate the players and coaches who have earned the distinction that brings them here today ...

I'm extremely pleased with the on-ice product. We had the Vancouver Canucks win 10 games in a row during November, and that's a run that probably had a lot to do with making Marc Crawford the Western Conference All-Star coach. Vancouver's Markus Naslund took the league lead in goals with 35 and is on-pace to challenge the lead records for power-play goals and game-winning goals.

Mario Lemieux got off to a breathtaking start with 68 points in 41 games. We obviously hope he will be back soon.

Patrick Roy became the first goaltender to play in 1,000 regular-season games.

The top six players in plus-minus are Dallas Stars. The Stars also lost just two games at home in their first 24 contests at American Airlines Center.

Ten different players mounted scoring streaks of 10 games or more, and that's four more than all last season. The playoff races already are taking shape, and I have little doubt that they'll extend to the final days, if not final hours, of the regular season. And I remain convinced, and we are consistently demonstrating, that ours is the most meaningful, the most impactful regular season of any sport. Every game matters. Every point counts. If you think I'm kidding, just think back to the teams with 90 points last year who didn't make the playoffs.

I believe that high level of competition is a major factor in our attendance being as strong as it is, and it is strong. We have set an attendance record the last five seasons in a row, and we are, as of this moment, basically flat with last year's record number, so the potential does exist for its sixth record in a row. Time will tell. If we get it, we get it; if we don't, we don't.

Attendance is strong, and in a recessionary economy with an extremely crowded entertainment marketplace, our fan support is outstanding, and let's use a little perspective. Twenty years ago we averaged 13,000 people a game. Ten years ago we averaged 14,000 people a game. We will be at about 16,500 per game this year. Do I see empty seats in certain arenas? Of course I do. That's not new.

I see some teams are up and some teams are down, but this is the way the attendance always works for us, when we're setting records and when we're not. That's what we see year after year. That's the way attendance always works.

I know the feedback we're getting from our fans, and they love the hurry-up line change, which has cut our time-of-game 14 minutes to 2:20. It's been 40 years since our games have been that quick.

The feedback has also been extremely positive with regard to the standard of enforcement against obstruction and forechecker interference. I know there has been a lot of debate whether "The standard has slipped," and whether "We're right back where we were last year," so to speak, but that is not the case. There's a debate as well over whether or not we're calling too much.

Is it perfect? No. But it isn't reverting back, and it's much better than it was when we decided to move forward with this standard. We had a meeting last week with the screening committee of your general managers, and their view is that the game is really good and the right calls are being made. Some GMs want us to call a little more or little less. They all say we're comfortable with how the flow is.

In fact, Trevor Linden, President of the Player's Association, made an interesting comment the other day. He said, if I may paraphrase very loosely, "These problems have been in the game for 86 years. It's unrealistic to think they will completely go away in three months, but it is much better." I agree. I know the hockey operations department is vigilant on this, every game, every night. We've sent more than 1,300 video e-mails to our officials since the season began, illustrating the kinds of plays we want. We have multiple and periodic conference calls with our officials. The monitoring, the supervision, the education of our staff has never been better. What this has all meant is a game with more flow, more continuous action. The teams that want to play a hard forecheck can do it, and the teams that want to go to the net are able to get there now.

The end result is best reflected by our top 16 scorers. Our top 16 scorers are averaging at least a point per game. At the end of last season, we only had three players who could make that claim. We've also had 46 hat tricks this season to this point. Last year we only had 57 the entire season.

Regarding injuries, the latest report I received from the Injury Analysis Panel states that through 500 games, overall injuries are down slightly this season from last, and about 20 percent down from two years ago.

As well, with respect to concussions, we are down 7 percent from last year and 40 percent from this point two years ago.

I want to address the issue of seamless glass. In retrospect, with the work we had to do in the off-season, getting the nets up, it may have been a little bit ambitious to set an end-of- calendar-year deadline. Nevertheless, 23 teams now have softer systems and the seven clubs that still have seamless systems are seeing how quickly they can make the necessary adjustments to meet the standard of flexibility. There are no statistics that will tell you there are more injuries with a seamless system. I made the judgement to require the change because I thought long-term it made good sense, and because it was important to the players, even if only on an intuitive basis. It will get done ...

Today's Board meeting was relatively brief. We had presentations. We talked about the role of our sponsors and the All-Stars celebration this weekend. The creditors in Ottawa continue to decide whether or not to take Rod Bryden's bid and shortcut the process or open it up to general bidding. I assume they will decide in the next few days. Other than that, the club continues to meet its obligations in the ordinary course.

With respect to Buffalo, we had given the Hamister group an extension of our exclusive activity until this Monday. Even if we chose not to extend the exclusive activity period again, the Hamister group will be free to continue to pursue the purchase of the Sabres, but at the same time we may well decide to explore what other options we have with respect to ownership.

Our commitment to the fans and to the communities, both in Ottawa and Buffalo, is that we want the Sabres and we want the Senators to stay exactly where they are -- successfully reorganized. That is what we're working towards.
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