Every year, commissioner Gary Bettman delivers a state-of-the-union address before the Stanley Cup final opens and every year, it’s the same essential story – a litany of the NHL’s success stories.
Yes, even in a year almost cancelled by a lockout, at a time when goal-scoring in the last two rounds of the playoffs is averaging fewer than five per game, it was a good-news day.
Even the possibility that the Coyotes may not survive in Phoenix beyond this season was couched as a business opportunity.
“There are a number of markets that have been expressing interest to us over the years,” said Bettman, “and the phone keeps ringing more regularly, the longer the Coyotes’ situation stays unresolved.”
Ultimately, the NHL needs an answer on Phoenix by the end of the month, if for no other reason that it has to put a schedule out for next year soon after. In recent years, next year’s schedule would be close-to-finalized by now, but this year it will be delayed into July by three factors – the late start to the current season, the uncertainty over the Coyotes, and the need to include an 18-day break in February if the NHL goes to Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Olympics, which is all but settled.
Bettman said he was “optimistic” that Olympic participation was a go.
“If you were keeping score, the Players’ Association probably has more open issues than we do,” said Bettman, “but we’re doing this together, so until it’s all done, it isn’t done.”
Speaking on the matter of player safety, Bettman suggested that concussions, on a per-game basis, are down “slightly” year over year and they anticipate league revenues to do well, considering they played just 58 per cent of the schedule.
Anyone unhappy about the state of playoff refereeing wasn’t getting any support from Bettman, who characterized NHL officials as the “best” in the world.
“This is a game of errors,” said Bettman. “Players make them, coaches make them and occasionally the officials make them. We constantly critique, supervise and coach them. They are held accountable for their performance. No matter what they do, they get criticized. If they call penalties at the end of the game, people get hysterical and say you shouldn’t call penalties like that at the end of a playoff game. If they don’t call penalties, it’s ‘Oh, they’re not calling it and they’re letting the standard slip.’
“The officials do a very good job. Is it perfect? No. But that’s what we strive for.”
Bettman dropped one other interesting tidbit of information – the NHL has settled on the names of the new divisions under the agreed-upon realignment plan, along with the new playoff format. However, Bettman said he would wait until after the Stanley Cup final to unveil their choices.