Gary Bettman Talks Winter Classic, HBO, Headshots and More
So when asked about playing any future Winter Classics in a warm-weather city, the NHL Commissioner smiled and said, "It's ironic you ask in light of the fact that it's raining -- although it rained in Pittsburgh."
Bettman said that the league is not yet ready to start thinking about next year's Winter Classic, but he said that when it comes to a warm-weather team, "Right now more front-burner would be looking at one of the so called warm-climate teams playing as a visiting team."
On his final stop of a tour of all three California teams, Bettman addressed a wide range of topics and he pronounced himself and the league very pleased with HBO'S "24/7," which took an in-depth look at the Capitals and Penguins in the weeks before the Winter Classic, and the event itself.
In responding to a question about the salty language in the series, Bettman said, "We had no pushback at all. I think one of the reasons 24/7 was so well-received, the feedback has been universally effusive, is because it was pretty real."
Bettman liked the fact the series showed how seriously two teams took regular season games, and he noted with the tight races in the conference now, a game or two here or there really does matter enormously.
"HBO Sports did a great job," he said. "It took people in places they'd never been before. I have people who've been associated with the NHL for 20 years, owners, managers, say, 'I didn't know that until I saw it on HBO.' "
HBO has told the NHL they'd like to do it again, Bettman said. He called the series "compelling" and the game action "magnificent." And, Bettman pointed out, the network had a bleeped version during the daytime.
One of the main focal points of that HBO series, Penguins star Sidney Crosby, said after being diagnosed with a concussion last week that he hopes that the NHL pays more attention to headshots of the sort that knocked him out; he felt he was an unsuspecting player without the puck each time.
"Obviously, we respect his view and opinion," Bettman said. "And I know we are paying attention to it. We've been vigilant on headshots the past few years. ... As blindside hits became more prevalent, we made an adjustment. There are going to be collisions in our game, there is going to be contact with the head, unless we take hitting completely out of the game, which I don't think anyone wants."
Neither headshot on Crosby warranted a suspension or a fine from the league.
"It was the view of the 150 years' of experience our hockey operations department has that it didn't warrant it," Bettman said.
Bettman was asked about the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is up in 2012, but he noted that it's a long way off and that the other three major sports have their labor agreements coming up first, and the player's union has a new executive director, Donald Fehr, who needs to be able to get up to speed. "We should be enjoying this season and next season," he said. "I really think all of this is premature."
As far as the upcoming TV contract, Bettman said that the league is about to get an exclusive period in which to negotiate with current rights holder Versus, but everyone is waiting to see what happens with Comcast's purchase of NBC Universal, which is awaiting approval. Bettman said in the next few months the league will be focused on its broadcast arrangements.
International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel suggested at the World Junior championships last week that the NHL will not get any financial compensation for Olympic participation, something that reportedly had been on the NHL's wish list. Not according to Bettman, however.
"We've never discussed revenue sharing with the IIHF or the IOC," Bettman said. "In fact, we've never discussed any of the issues that may have to be addressed if we're going to consider going forward in the future. Mr. Fasel said over the summer we would only go to Europe over his dead body, and we never said we were going to Europe. Every now and then he likes to make statements which somehow don't have any basis in the things we are thinking about or talking about. But Rene's a good friend and he shares with us a desire to grow the game of hockey."
Speaking of international hockey, would the league ever consider the IIHF point system, three points for a win, two points for an overtime win, one point for a loss?
"We get asked that a lot," he said, saying that periodically the idea does come up for discussion. "I know for people's sense of symmetry, it's a discussion point, but we kind of like the way it's working now. There hasn't been much push, because if you change the point system, you're going to change the dynamic at the end of the game. You will see if a team is up by one goal at the beginning of the third period a much more defensive-oriented game. We've tried to create the opportunity and incentives for a more wide-open game, more scoring chances, so it works well."