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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman listens as he meets with reporters after a meeting with team owners, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012 in New York. (Mary Altaffer/AP)
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman listens as he meets with reporters after a meeting with team owners, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012 in New York. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Q&A WITH GARY BETTMAN

Gary Bettman: The lightning rod Add to ...

Q: It’s believed that in both the NFL and the NBA the original positions that the leagues staked out were, in fact, lower than the split initially proposed by the NHL this summer. Is this correct?

A: Our first offer was obviously a starting point for negotiations.

Q: When you came back in 2005 the game was essentially reinvented. From what I’ve seen, attendance went up and revenues went up. Baseball came back in the early 1990s from a work stoppage and it wasn’t successful right away at all. But you can’t reinvent a game every time as NHL hockey did in 2005. So it has to be assumed your preference would be not to have a lockout and bring the same game back so that you maintain the success the league had as recently as just last season. Is this fair to assume?

A: Last season was phenomenal. We’ve had seven terrific seasons. Our competitive balance is not only the best that it’s ever been for hockey, it may be the best that any sport has ever seen – and that is a direct function of the system that we have and how it works. We need some adjustments to that system to keep the game heading in the right direction and to keep the game healthy. That’s why we find ourselves in the negotiations that we are in.

Q: When it was settled in 2005, not only was the game improved but the owners felt that they had a good deal, the Canadian ownership is proof in the pudding, surely, that it was a good deal there. But now the owners say it’s not a good deal. How is it that costs and other issues require that you relook at this arrangement?

A: It’s been my practice not to negotiate publicly, so I am going to try to adhere to that. But The fact is the cost of doing business, particularly in the recessionary environment that we have been through, has increased daily. Our single largest cost is, obviously, costs related to the players, whether or not it’s salaries or everything else that goes into making sure that they are appropriately treated, or just to put on the games. What we’re focused on is a system that works. Since costs in this recessionary environment have gone up so dramatically – I’m told that the fuel that flies the planes that we use to move the players around in has gone up 175 per cent in the last five years. Other costs have gone up, perhaps not as dramatically on a percentage basis, but in a recessionary environment it has become more difficult to do business. And even though we have done a good job in growing revenues, the fact is we have spent a lot of money in the last seven or eight years reinvesting in the business and in the business of the game. Probably what I’m describing isn’t unlike the experiences in football and in basketball and, in both of those sports, the players recognize the need and appropriateness of taking a decline in their percentages.

Q: Prior to the very end of this last collective agreement, there was a flurry of player signings, some contracts running as high as $100-million over 13 years. Is that helpful?

A: Not particularly, but it was perfectly acceptable under the system. And it highlighted one of the issues under the current system. These long-term, back-diving contracts are really attempts to circumvent the system. And the fact that they have become so prevalent has actually pointed out the need to fix it. I know that lots of people look at what they did and scratch their head. I can understand how they could be complaining about it. Our clubs are fiercely competitive. They will do whatever a system allows. And they will push the limits to the very edge. These contracts are not something we envisioned when we made the deal eight years ago.

Q: Some players have suggested that the CBA was allowed to die because it was really going to be owners vs. owners, not players vs. owners or owners vs. players.

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