Gary Bettman on the future of the Phoenix Coyotes: “I still remain optimistic that the club will remain where it is.”

October 6, 2011 – 6:30 am by Steven Cuce

Gary Bettman is set to embark on another season as NHL commissioner, but this one will be different than ever before. There is a new sheriff in town, Brendan Shanahan, who is fully in charge of reviewing and assessing punishment in the league’s new discipline policy for checking. Then there is the Winnipeg Jets returning back to the hockey universe after the organization moved back from Atlanta this summer. There is also the issue of the Coyotes having a future in Phoenix or Glendale, Arizona? Will there be realignment in the NHL? As always Bettman will have a ton of plate this fall as the commissioner believes the league is moving in the right direction.

Gary Bettman joined 590 The Fan in Toronto on HockeyCentral with Daren Millard, Nick Kypreos and Doug MacLean to discuss where the NHL is in terms of ownership with the Phoenix Coyotes, a deal between the city of Phoenix and the Coyotes getting done soon, working a realignment plan without knowing the fate of the Coyotes in Phoenix, getting negative calls from general managers around the NHL regarding the new discipline policy and rating the job that Brendan Shanahan has done so far with the new discipline policy.

Where are you guys with Phoenix? As long as Glendale continues to rent this team for $25 million a year are you okay with that?

“First of all I think we need to take a step back. Winnipeg is great and we are thrilled to be there, but this was never about saying which do we like better? Atlanta or Winnipeg? As with any time that we have had to relocate. We don’t look at the alternatives until the team is dead in the water where it is. The measuring rod for that is does somebody not want to own the team they are owning anymore? That is why Winnipeg moved in the first place. That is why Quebec City moved. After it was clear that Atlanta was done that’s when we said it was okay to go to Winnipeg and this will work and this will be great. We’re not going to go on with Phoenix indefinitely. The fact of the matter is we do have a couple of groups that have understandings in a macro sense with the city of Glendale? We’re going through a process of betting this and seeing if we can work it through. I still remain optimistic that the club will remain where it is, but going to your question the essential element is when you have a city that makes an investment in the building and then they are prepared to continue investing in the building to insure that they are going to be there. That is not something you take lightly. When you don’t have an alternative you move. Now obviously we don’t want to keep operating this club from the league standpoint then at some point there will be fatigue in this situation if we don’t get it sold probably this season.”

Are you getting to the point where you can’t tolerate this from the city of Phoenix and the Coyotes ownership this much longer? Is it going to get done soon?

“It’s not a question of saying we can’t tolerate it. That’s not the point because we have been trying to do the right thing here, but the uncertainty is an issue particularly for the players and management. It’s not a question of what I can tolerate. It’s us ultimately for the long term at some point having to be realistic  about the situation. By the way Shane Doan and the other players have been absolutely terrific about how they have handled this situation to this point. I know they are thrilled that the club is there this season. Those are conversations I have had with Shane Doan on a regular basis and Don Maloney feels the same way. Nobody is looking to move. What we are looking to do is get rid of the uncertainty and that’s what we are working on.

It’s tough to do a realignment plan when you do not know what is going to happen in Phoenix?

“Well whoever said anything we do is going to be easy? You do the best you can under the circumstances.”

Are you getting a lot of calls from general managers regarding the new discipline rules?

“No. Like what kind of phone calls? [Host: Upset about the number of penalties being called?] Actually I get phone calls from general managers. The feedback while not unanimous is overwhelmingly positive in terms of the steps that have been taken to better protect heads in the hopes of reducing concussions.”

How do you rate the job that Brendan Shanahan has done so far heading up the league’s new player safety department?

“He is doing a terrific job. It turned and I don’t say this with anything other then an observers viewpoint. When Clarke MacArthur got suspended the fans in Toronto were outraged and when Ryan Malone wasn’t suspended for the hit on Chris Campoli the Montreal Canadian fans were outraged. By the way if you look at the videos he made or he is making some videos on it there are as you guys know a half of a split second or a foot difference or a turn of the head of the body at the last moment makes the difference because of the extent I have heard some of the complaints and not too many because it has been overwhelmingly positive both from the owners and general managers is are we taking physicality or hitting out of the game? The answer is no. What you really have to focus on is it a body check? Is it a full body check? We have removed body shots under rule 48, but we haven’t removed all head contact because of the nature of the game and the speed and physicality and the fact that we want full body checking. There is going to be some incident head contact and that’s not something that has been legislated out either by the rules or by supplemental discipline. I think our people including our own people meaning players and coaches and commentators and our fans are going to have to adjust. It’s not unlike when we came out of the work stoppage and people said when we changed the officiating standard that we had taken the physicality of the game. Well as everybody knows we didn’t take physicality out of the game. There is more hitting than ever before and the game has been played faster. Let us continue to go through the adjustment period. I think we will get there and most importantly I think it’ll be a huge step forward for protecting heads. I can live with separated shoulders and broken bones. Heads we are much more concerned about.”

Listen to Gary Bettman on 590 The Fan in Toronto here

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