By John Vogl
Gary Bettman, who held a news conference prior to Game One of the Stanley Cup final, says a World Cup is coming, expansion probably isn't (at least not anytime soon) and teams will be disciplined for failing to follow concussion protocol.
The full transcript of his chat is here:
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Good afternoon, everyone. It is my pleasure to welcome you to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final and to the culmination of what has been a truly remarkable National Hockey League season.
There is no question, I think we all say it, that the Stanley Cup is the most difficult trophy to win. The fact that these two conference champions have reached this Final is a testimony to the strength of their organizations and to their character.
This will be our 15th consecutive year without a repeat champion, which is also a testimony to the NHL's unparalleled competitive balance.
It's difficult to win in our league. Our finalists have paid physical and an emotional price that's required to record up to this point 12 playoff victories, each of which seemed more difficult and challenging than the one before it.
This sets the stage for what we believe will be a tremendously exciting cross-continent championship round.
I congratulate the Los Angeles Kings for becoming the first team in NHL history to win three Game 7s, all on the road, to reach their second Final in three seasons. Congratulations to Phil Anschutz, Dan Beckerman, Luc Robitaille, and Dean Lombardi for their hospitality and their cooperation.
And congratulations, as well, to the New York Rangers, Jim Dolan, Tad Smith, Glen Sather, on winning their first Eastern Conference championship in 20 years. We look forward to their hospitality when we're in New York.
The Rangers beat two teams that collected 100 or more points in the regular season, while all three of the Kings' opponents had at least 107 points.
This is the first New York/Los Angeles championship matchup in pro sports since the Yankees/Dodgers World Series in 1981.
There's a little bit of symmetry, I suppose, to all of this in as much as the Kings played an outdoor game this season at Dodger Stadium and the Rangers played at Yankee Stadium as part of the Stadium Series.
The Coors Light Stadium Series, the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at the Big House, the Tim Hortons Heritage Classic in Vancouver. We took a little trip to Sochi for the Olympics. We had new divisional alignment and playoff format. All of this combined truly made this a season like no other.
Thanks to our fans, we set records for attendance at our arenas and viewership on NBC. By any measure this may have been the most successful season on and off the ice in NHL history.
There's been a lot discussed and debated about the road we took to where we are today, but I'm one that always likes to look forward.
Our objective always was and is to make a great game even greater, to give our fans the best sports experience and entertainment possible, and the best opportunities to connect with our game.
The 2013/14 campaign accomplished that objective, for which I thank our broadcast partners, our business partners, our clubs, our players, our staff at the NHL, and most importantly our fans.
Our plan is to continue to find innovative ways to further increase our game's growth and momentum. As we anticipate a terrific Final between two outstanding conference champions, they represent two passionate sports markets. I'm as excited as I hope all of you are.
I'm happy to take your questions. With me today is Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, Chief Operating Officer John Collins, and among the three of us, we hope to get the answers right, or at least be responsive.
So, please, ask your questions.
Q. Gary, I was hoping you could tell us if there will be an announcement about a possible World Cup of Hockey, whatever you may call it, for 2016, or if you want to share all the details right now?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: That would have been nice. We're not ready. It's not something that's fully baked. As you know, World Cups and international competitions are something we do jointly with the Players' Association. While we're having very substantive discussions about what the possibilities are, what the World Cup might look like, how it should be done, whether we're looking at a series of World Cups, is something that we're not yet in a position where we're comfortable making any announcements, because even if we announced that we were doing a World Cup, for example, in '16, the fact of the matter is you then have 20 follow-up questions about how it would work, what the different issues were, how they'd be addressed.
I think we want to get to a position where we and the Players' Association are comfortable that we're in agreement on all of those issues. That's something that we have been working on and we will continue to work on.
Q. Gary, what have your impressions been of the new playoff format this year? Do you anticipate it will continue to be used going forward?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Well, I think the entire realignment this season has been received overwhelmingly in a positive way, both in terms of the regular season and the teams that got readjusted geographically to not only foster rivalries, but also for when teams are on the road to get games televised at more sensible times.
The regular season was extraordinarily competitive. I think when we came back from Sochi, if the season had ended on that day, 25 teams were either in the playoffs or within four points of a playoff spot. So competitively the regular season was great.
These playoffs have been phenomenal. Over the 14 series, seven have gone seven games, I think four have gone six games, something like that. But it's just been phenomenal. The rivalries have been great. The excitement, the anticipation, and most importantly the fan and player reaction has been terrific.
Q. Gary, from a business point of view, how exciting is it to have the Los Angeles and New York markets to attract the marginal hockey fan?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: To directly answer your question, sports fans who might not necessarily be NHL fans, they will get intrigued and captivated if the hockey's good. If what we see in the Final is anything like what we've seen in the first three rounds, it should be captivating, entertaining and cause people to want to tune in.
Obviously the fact that you're dealing with the two biggest cities in North America has an impact by sheer volume. The number of media credentialed for this I think is at an all-time high for any NHL event. That speaks to the fact that we're dealing with major media markets and large population bases.
If this series is going to resonate, it's going to be because of what takes place on the ice. Hopefully it won't be the case, if it's not a very compelling series, it wouldn't matter where it was being played. But it is getting a tremendous amount of attention.
Q. Gary, how important have live sporting events become to the media industry and how does the NHL plan on capitalizing on that in the growing digital age?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: You're seeing it in terms of the rights fees being paid, the bidding going on for the rights to televise sports, especially from the four majors. You're seeing the digital space, social media, and streaming events, contents in other forms in increasingly dramatic numbers in terms of growth. That's made sports and sports franchises more and more valuable.
We think that we over the last decade have been huge beneficiaries first of HD TV which has made the game on television closer to what it is in person, and we think that's great for us. But also our ability to deal directly with fans either with streaming games or content or information, whether it's NHL.com or social media, the opportunities are limitless. And we're excited about those opportunities as we continue to grow the game.
In effect, people are connecting with our game in more numbers and in more ways than ever before, and that's a function of social and digital media. That's something that we continue to want to work with and put more and more content on.
That's why, for example, shows like 24/7 and NHL Revealed are so important because we want to use media in all forms to give access to the game.
Q. You could have announced the World Cup because I'm going to ask a follow-up question anyway.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: But I didn't (laughter).
Q. Can you describe how important you think the World Cup is as you imagine the international calendar for the NHL moving forward? I know the Olympics is still a separate issue. But how important is the World Cup? In your discussions with the Players' Association, how important it is to them, to get this back into a regular rotation?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I think it's important and I think it's a great opportunity for the game.
We start with the fact that of all of the North American sports, our players, our game has a history and tradition of international competition. It's something that we know is very important for our players to be able to represent their countries. We understand that and we appreciate it.
The fact is with a talent pool that is worldwide, in addition to connecting with fans where the players from outside of North America are coming from, it continues to encourage the development of great hockey players throughout the world.
So, yes, it's a great business opportunity, but it's also an opportunity to expand our fan base, to continue the growth and development of the game, and encourage young people to play the game, and ultimately develop at a caliber where the best players in the world will come to play in the NHL.
The World Cup, hopefully when we get to it, will be part of an international calendar that will do lots of other things, whether it's exhibition games, regular-season games, clinics or the like. We don't necessarily view the World Cup as a one-off, which is why the discussions are as elaborate as they are.
Q. Gary, the Olympic participation question, is it tied directly to a World Cup announcement or can you have two different announcements?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I think we've all been clear since we left Sochi that it was nice to be there and it was a wonderful tournament, but our focus the day after was completing our regular season and going into the playoffs.
We haven't had any substantive discussions about future Olympic participation. That is something that ultimately we're going to have to resolve.
I'm not sure that we necessarily have to resolve it if and when we make a World Cup announcement. We'll see where the discussions go and where we are.
But it's something that, again, we haven't addressed.
I know there's been a number of you who have said that either Bill or I have been quoted as saying we wanted to make a quick decision. That's not what we've said. What we've said is consistent with what I just said. Also, at some point if we think we're not going to go, we would rather make that decision sooner than later so the Federations would have time to react.
But we haven't made any decisions and we haven't really given it much thought.
Q. Gary, in these playoffs we've seen James Wisniewski lie and say it's a back injury so he could avoid protocol, we saw Dale Weise stumble, return to the game, be diagnosed with a concussion. Are players and teams following the protocol the way they should? Can you characterize where concussions were during this season?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: In reverse order, concussions were down as a percentage, moderate to low double-digits as a percentage matter, and man games lost were probably about half of what we've seen recently. I think that's a function of the concussion protocols working.
We are serious about them, as is the Players' Association. They're being enforced. We are doing what is necessary to enforce the concussion protocols. If we think there's been a violation, we follow up. If in an appropriate case there needs to be disciplined imposed, we will do it. If we think we need to do more, speculation about independent spotters, that's something we'll discuss and do if necessary at the time.
Part of what we're going through is an education process for the players to, again, understand that it's important that if they're having symptoms, they let them be addressed.
Obviously it's difficult for us to get into a player's head, no pun intended with this concussion discussion, but if a player is going to not follow the protocol, not say exactly what he's feeling, that's pretty difficult to address.
There's probably some human nature in that. Some of us, when we go to our doctors for annual checkups, don't tell them everything. We're trying to make sure that the players understand it's important to do that and it's okay to say you're suffering from concussion symptoms. If you look at the last few years, we think the culture in that regard has changed dramatically and we're getting good compliance and we're going to be at it until we get perfect compliance.
Q. You mentioned you would discipline or follow up. Have you done that?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Yes.
Q. How do you do that?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: There are a variety of ways, including fining possibilities. For us it's not a PR stunt. It's more important we get this working the right way.
But, yes, there have been instances of us following up and discipline.
Q. In these playoffs?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: There have been instances in the course of the games played throughout this season where we have followed up appropriately.
Q. Gary, any update on a sale of the Islanders, where that situation is?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: No. The fact is Charles Wang, who is the owner of the Islanders, is continuing to consider his options and decide what he wants to do.
I don't think he's reached a firm conclusion yet as to whether or not he wants to sell, sell it all, sell a piece. Until he does, none of us will know what the ownership situation will be.
He's not under any pressure to do it. I think on an emotional level he's trying to come to grips with what he wants to do, particularly with the impending move to Brooklyn.
I spoke to Charles this week, I think on Monday. As of Monday at least that's where things stood.
Q. I want to ask you about the Olympics. Obviously this is a decision you've had to make in the past couple Olympics, do you take part, not take part. Is it easier to say no to South Korea than it would be to Russia and Canada, because obviously the lack of a large number of South Korean players in the NHL?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Actually we went to games in Japan and Italy.
First of all, it's not my decision. Ultimately it's up to the NHL Board of Governors to decide. As I indicated in the prior question, we haven't given it any thought yet. I'm not even in a position to say what factor or not South Korea would be because it's not something we've given any thought to yet.
Q. How do you account for the massive disparity in ratings between Chicago and L.A. or New York?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: First of all, we have some cities that do unbelievable numbers, what I refer to quietly as NFL-type numbers in their market. Chicago is one of them. Detroit, Pittsburgh, Buffalo. I'm just talking about the U.S. markets. In Canada, all the markets are off the charts.
You know, don't just look at the number because a 22 rating with a population of three million is not that different than a rating of 7 in a population of nine million.
I think L.A. has performed extraordinarily well on television. They're seeing record numbers. I think Game 7 against Chicago did somewhere around an 8, give or take. This is the thing I look at most rather than just the rating number, I think it was the number one network in Los Angeles during the game. So that tells you as much as anything.
Obviously the Blackhawks were the number one network throughout. It's a testament, since we're talking about the Blackhawks, to what Rocky Wirtz and John McDonough and everybody on that team has done.
Q. Gary, as television gets better, we're seeing more and more at home than ever before. Now we're seeing if a play is off-side, if a goal is in or not. Would you like to see replay expanded to parameters that we don't see now so calls are close to 100% correct?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Actually, the end of your question nails the point. We do probably 8,000 goal reviews now. We've been the standard for 20 years that the other leagues look to. Whether or not the puck is in, the other criteria we have are very discreet.
Of the 8,000 or so reviews, if we get five wrong a year, it's a lot. If you're going to do video replay, you're telling the world you're going to get it right with that kind of consistency.
A little bit hard in a game like ours that has so much action and plays for a long period of time. It's something that we're looking at, but if you decide you're going to review something that happened a minute and a half earlier, what do you do when the whistle finally stops and something happens to impact the game in that minute and a half. Somebody else scored a goal, a penalty was taken.
If we're going to take the next step, and it's something we're discussing internally, it's going to have to be a series of discreet things that we're comfortable we can get right and not cause consequences that would actually be worse.
Having said that, I want to also say what technology has shown us, with all the cameras, HD, replay, everything else, our officials do a remarkable job. Do they get every call right? The answer is obviously not. But not every player and coach gets every play right.
The fact of the matter is overwhelmingly what you see on replay bears out what they do. Yes, you have an occasional call that is wrong, inopportune, glaring in its consequence, but when you devise a system to deal with those handful of instances, are you going to make it worse by the unintended consequences that follow?
That's why we move slowly. If we do more things, you'll see a handful of things that are very discreet and will be tested.
As you see in other sports, it's not so easy to implement it. I'm very comfortable with what we have. I've got to be at least as comfortable with anything new we try to undertake.
Q. Gary, would you say there will be a focus by the NHL to involve teams that haven't had the opportunity to get involved in the outdoor games?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Yes. If for no other reason, teams that haven't been involved are telling us on a regular basis is that they want to be involved. We want to be inclusive. The reason we did as many games as we did is we know how important it is to clubs to be able to participate in something like this.
Q. Would you say the success of the Dodger Stadium game increases the chance of us seeing another "nontraditional" market game, say San Jose, Dallas or Florida?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Without getting specific as to what the options may be, we learned a lot - all good - from playing in Dodger Stadium. That was a remarkable night. It was a great spectacle. The fans, and as importantly the players, had a really good time.
Dan Craig does a great job of making ice. He told me the thousand times I asked him leading up to that it was going to be all right, the ice was going to be fine, and it was. So we have options to play in places that you wouldn't necessarily think of.
There are some places, though, as a matter of climate, that just won't work at all. But we'll have to deal with that by putting those teams on the road at some point.
Q. Gary, what is your reaction to seeing an NBA team, the Clippers, sell for $2 billion?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: The fact of the matter is, and we discussed this earlier, sports franchises are becoming increasingly valuable because of their prominence as media content. It doesn't surprise me to see franchise values increase dramatically. Ours having done the same. One survey had our franchise values up like 46% last year. Not that I buy into all that, but it indicates a trend.
I think there was a lot of uniqueness about the Clippers sale. It clearly, from what we hear, is going to sell for $2 billion. That may be a function of the uniqueness of the L.A. market. It may be a function of the uniqueness of the people who live in L.A. who wanted to own the franchise. It may be a function of the person who decided to buy it and his own particular circumstances.
It went for $2 billion. Whether or not it means franchises in the NBA or any other sport are proportionately impacted, I'm not so sure to the dollar. But if the Clippers are worth $2 billion, we have plenty of franchises that are worth that if not more.
Q. You've chosen to this point not to comment on this. Can you shed any light on the decision to give New Jersey first-round draft pick back?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I think I did comment at the time. We issued an opinion. The fact of the matter is when I took into account all of the circumstances that came into play -- and you know them covering the club as well as anybody – including the fact that there was new ownership. I believe while the team is still being penalized, they've lost 20 spots in the draft, the forfeiture as initially laid out with the benefit of time and circumstance, I was comfortable that giving them the last pick in the first round was appropriate. Again, I think dropping from the 10th pick to the 30th is a substantial penalty.
Q. Were the new owners the overwhelming reason behind it?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Yes. And to anticipate a question, there was no discussion with them about this while they were seeking to acquire the club. Absolutely none. It only came in a request from them asking me to reconsider the circumstances, and I took into account all of the circumstances.
If it weren't for the fact that there were new owners, I wouldn't have done it. The fact is that there were changed circumstances and new owners made me comfortable doing it. That's probably a more precise answer.
Q. Gary, can you bring us up to date on where things stand in terms of expanding eventually to Seattle or Québec City?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: We're not planning on expanding. We're not in an expansion mode or formal expansion process. We listen when people say, We'd like to come visit you and tell you why we're interested and where we're interested.
Seattle, which seems to have the most number of people interested, the fact is there's no building that's on the horizon. The person who controls the rights to build a building in Seattle is intent upon having an NBA team before he builds a building. Based on what's happened to date and the fact that his partner has now bought a different franchise, I don't know that there's any prospect of a building in Seattle.
It's nice that there's interest, but there's really not a whole lot for us to do with it.
Q. There’s a building in Quebec City.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: There is. That would cause us to have yet another team in the East. I'm not even sure how we deal with it.
I think if, in fact, we get to a point where there's enough interest in enough places that it warrants consideration, then the Board of Governors may well invoke a formal expansion process and we'll look at everything.
I don't think this is something you do on a piecemeal basis.
Q. What is Stéphane Quintal's status and what is it going forward?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: He is interim head of the Department of Player Safety. He was able to step in when Brendan Shanahan left to go to Toronto.
I think it's a testament to Brendan that he created the department the way he did, procedures the way he did, brought in people the way he did, that we were able to seamlessly make this transition. Stéphane has been doing a terrific job.
Once we get through the season, we'll focus on what we're going to do going forward, who the candidates are, as a permanent successor to Brendan. Stéphane will no doubt be in that consideration.
Q. Can the league and the players sustain long-term having two major international events in the Olympic cycle, like one every two years, the World Cup and the Olympics?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: In fact, the players go to the World Championship every year. That's part of the discussion as to what the calendar looks like. That's why I said before it's not a one-off decision. Part of our discussions are going to be and have been what the calendar as a whole will look like.
Q. On the cap recapture (of the CBA), some criticism it's too hard on teams. What is your response to that? Have you heard complaints?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I heard the one from Glen Sather saying you should talk to me.
What the recapture does is make sure that to the extent dollars weren't counted against the cap, that they're counted.
This is supposed to be a system that works that what is paid out by the teams counts. It's a competitive issue as much as a financial issue. It's only fair that it's recaptured.
If you go back to the last round of Collective Bargaining, what we were trying to do was make some tweaks that made sure the system worked the way it was supposed to and that there were as few loopholes as possible.
The way it was in its first form, there was obviously a bit of a loophole. It wasn't fair. It wasn't consistent with the system we created. In fairness, you have to recapture what it is you have paid but haven't accounted for under the cap. We think it's perfectly fair.
If I'm not mistaken, when we presented the Collective Bargaining Agreement that we're operating under to the clubs it passed by a 30-0 vote, which means unanimously all clubs approved what's in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Doesn't mean that everybody agreed with everything. Any agreement on behalf of 30 clubs has to represent a fair consensus.
Q. Are you any closer to determining what the upper limit might be next season for the salary cap?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: No. The estimates we started the season with were somewhere around 70s, low 70s. We said the fall in the Canadian dollar might impact that by a couple million dollars. We're getting all the hard data financially from the season, but I don't have a better estimate than the ones that have been out there for the last few months.
I'll see you all around. Enjoy the series. Hopefully it will be a good one. Thank you for being here.