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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media in New York September 13, 2012. The league and the players collective bargaining agreement ends at midnight on Saturday. (CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS)
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media in New York September 13, 2012. The league and the players collective bargaining agreement ends at midnight on Saturday. (CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS)

Eric Duhatschek

Gary Bettman: King of the castle Add to ...

Duhatschek: I don’t quote your predecessor very often, but one thing John Ziegler Jr. once said always stuck with me: There are a handful of players in the game that cause most of the problems. That was true in the 1980s, and it’s still true today.

Bettman: I’m not going to weigh in on that, but I will say this: We’re having a terrific season. The game on the ice is exciting and entertaining and there are certain things that get a disproportionate amount of the attention.

Duhatschek: Well, I’m going to bring up one of those things right now – fighting. I had a GM the other day that came up to me and said, ‘When did you go all green on me?’ I used to believe in the fighting as a safety valve theory and, hey, I didn’t mind watching a good scrap that had nothing to do with anything. But then I started coaching minor hockey and it changed my view. Fighting certainly has no place in that game, and yet there are players fighting there because they see fighting in the NHL.

Bettman: As it relates to kids, we can agree. But the NHL is at a different level of skill. The players who are, the life decisions they choose to make, the sacrifices they make in exchange for being compensated are decisions that adults can make. I don’t think you can equate the NHL game to what kids do.

Duhatschek: My point though is that players playing at every level of hockey under the NHL emulate what happens in the NHL. It’s like banning smoking in your home or office. Why don’t you just use your powers as commissioner to do it unilaterally?

Bettman: I can ban smoking in this office and I can make that unilateral decision. I don’t make the [game’s] rules. I don’t have unilateral decision-making authority and there are people on both sides of the discussion that are very well dug in on their positions. That’s a discussion, as with all elements of the game, that we’ll continue to have internally and the game will continue to evolve.

Duhatschek: Do you a personal opinion about it?

Bettman: Yes.

Duhatschek: Would you care to share it?

Bettman: No. And it’s probably not what anybody thinks or has been speculated. There are people here that know, but anyone who has speculated doesn’t know.

Duhatschek: Okay, on to television. I kept running into colleagues in the television industry last weekend, and it sounded as if you’re closing in on some agreements for a new Canadian TV rights package. I’m led to believe the CBC looks as if they’ll retain the Saturday night national package and that ‘Sunday game of the week’ they’ve been talking endlessly about might go to Rogers Sportsnet. What can you tell me about the state of the TV negotiations?

Bettman: Absolutely nothing. I’m in the middle of discussions and it would serve no constructive purpose to get into a public discussion of that. We’re working on it.

Duhatschek: But those agreements are up after this year. Is there a time frame in which you’d like to have new deals in place?

Bettman: Sooner rather than later. Look, I understand these questions. You have a job to do to get as much information as possible, but I have a job to do, too: To chart the future of our game on national television in Canada. I can’t do that in a public forum. It doesn’t work. The people who talk to us wouldn’t want to talk to us if they knew that was going to happen. Now, when we ultimately come to a conclusion, we’ll answer any questions that people had – within reason.

Duhatschek: So overall, where are you at? I’ll grant that you’ve managed to put out a lot of fires in 2013, relating to labour and franchise stability issues. I would think you’re probably drifting into the office around 10 in the morning and leaving by 3 p.m. most afternoons right now.

Bettman: (laughs) We’re now in the second year of a CBA that has a long shelf life. We have a system that promotes competitive balance – the best this league has ever seen. We sold three franchises this summer in a six-week period. When you say there’s nothing controversial, it’s because things are good. When you turn an aircraft carrier, it churns up the water. When you finally get it turned – which you can’t do overnight – things calm down and you can cruise.

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@eduhatschek

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