Gary Bettman became the NHL’s first commissioner in February of 1993. Before that, Gary was a senior vice-president and general counsel to the NBA. The owners had hired him with the mandate of selling the game to the US market, complete prior expansion plans and to end labor unrest. I would say that he has done a great job of expanding the NHL to US markets. He has expanded the league to 30 teams and more than doubled the amount of US teams to 24. Although he was able to get the NHL back on track after the 1994-95 lockout, he hasn’t had much luck since the 2004-05 lockout. ABC/ESPN declined the TV rights in 2005-06 which caused the NHL to lose a great deal of exposure as Bettman negotiated a deal with the Versus network. For this, Gary was been widely criticized and the hockey faithful have been asking him to resign since. You have to give him credit, he has stuck to his guns and vowed to fight this one out. May the last man standing win.
Gary Bettman joined WFAN in NY to talk about whether the start of the season is the best time of year for him, the NHL teams playing overseas and how they have been received, the state of the Phoenix Coyotes franchise, who will make roster and trade decisions for the Coyotes, the state of the Atlanta, Nashville and Florida franchises, and the state of the New York Islanders franchise and whether they are going to be there for the long term.
On whether the start of the season is the best time of year for him:
“This is a great time of year. I am kind of partial to the stretch run of the playoffs but I am glad to have hockey back. We have had an interesting summer with the events down in Phoenix but we are coming off of what was perhaps one of our best seasons if not our best season ever. I think this should be a good one and we are excited to drop the puck tonight.”
On the NHL teams playing overseas and how they have been received:
“Very well. They have been finishing training camp playing some exhibition games, but they are going to play… There are going to be 4 regular season games that are going to count over there. St. Louis and Detroit are going to play 2 games in Stockholm and Florida and Chicago are going to play 2 games in Helsinki. The games are going to count and the report I just got from Bill Bailey, the deputy commissioner over there, is that things are good and players are starting to feel good about starting the season.”
On the state of the Phoenix Coyotes franchise:
“Well thankfully the Coyotes are in Phoenix where they belong. The judge’s ruling while he rejected both bids he did the rejection a little differently for each of us. For the Balsillie bid that wants to move the club, he said that: You’re basically done because the league and in fact the owners disapproved you as an owner and as a bankruptcy judge I am not in the position to order you into the league. So he is done. In our case he said: From a matter of a bankruptcy court fairness, we are not sure we like the way you structured your bid but you are welcome to come back and try again. In the interim, the club is being supervised by the court and it is being run by the then current owner, Jerry Moyes and us, which isn’t an ideal situation but I think some of the uncertainty about this season has now been lifted and fans can focus on the fact that the team will certainly be there this season and hopefully beyond because that’s our goal. The reason we put in our bid was after all the local potential bidders got chased away we wanted to try and get the club out of bankruptcy and try and sell it to somebody that wants to rebuild the club in Phoenix where we think the team can succeed.”
On who will make roster and trade decisions for the Coyotes:
“Donnie Maloney is the General Manager, formerly of the Rangers. (Host: Do you guys have oversight?) There is oversight on anything extraordinary, but in terms of day-to-day operations the general manager and the president are running the club as they should be.”
On the state of the Atlanta, Nashville and Florida franchises:
“Well Atlanta, the owners have been in litigation for the last 3 years and I think that ill sort itself out. Nashville is doing ok. And Florida is in a rebuilding mode and I think that there is a good fan base in south Florida, but when you don’t make the playoffs I think now for 8 or 9 years it begins to take its toll. That is not a market that I really worry about long term because I think if the tem starts winning the fans will show.”
On the state of the New York Islanders franchise and whether they are going to be there for the long term:
“My expectation is that the team should be here. I think the Islanders are important for Long Island and I know because he has demonstrated it for the last 8 years. Charles Wang is committed to the Islanders and is all about Long Island and so he has done everything possible to get the Lighthouse Project moving forward. (Host: He told me on this show that if he could do it over again that he would have never bought the team.) Well you know I think that shows the frustration. He never thought that 8 years after he bought the team he would still be in a position that he was still playing in the Nassau Coliseum without a prospect of breaking ground on either a newer renovated Coliseum. I think the crazy thing about this is has he gotten all the approvals 3 or 4 years ago the building would have been built and it would have cost half as much. It gets more and more difficult and its clear that this team isn’t going to stay in this building, the Nassau Coliseum, for a minute longer than it is legally obligated to. So unless the politicians in Nassau county really get focused on the fact that there has to be a solution here or Charles is going to have to look at his alternatives. Now not all of those alternatives mean that he would move the team off of Long Island. He could be looking at other locations in Nassau, Suffolk or the Light. The Kansas City game, I don’t put any credence in that. The team isn’t going anywhere right now and quite frankly it is an exhibition game. So I am not sure if that was an indication of anything. What is clear I that Charles Wang wants an indication one way or another that: Let’s get on with it one way or the other…”