“Now that we’ve fixed our economics and energized the game with new rules and a standard of officiating that will be maintained going forward – I promise you that – we now have a chance to build on the momentum generated last season,” Bettman said on a conference call on the eve of the 89th NHL season.
“We’ll shine the spotlight on the players more than ever.”
Last season, most of the attention was on the aftermath of the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 campaign and the many changes brought not only to the business of hockey but to the game on the ice.
There was a salary cap, revenue sharing and a complex collective bargaining agreement off the ice, while on it, there were several news rules and an unprecedented crackdown on obstruction.
Unprecedented only because, unlike previous crackdowns that fizzled by Christmas, officials actually kept calling fouls all through the season and into the playoffs.
Changes were few this season. Sticks can have a quarter-inch more curve and there are fines and possibly suspensions for diving.
Perhaps bigger changes were made to benefit broadcasters.
Intermissions for all games will be 17 minutes, up from 15 minutes for most games last season, and all commercial breaks will be two minutes long.
Also, a minimum of 40 seconds will be left between when a goal is scored and when the ensuing faceoff is made.
The moves will allow broadcasters more time for analysis, replays and features, although they make pauses longer for players and fans at the rink.
NHL executive vice-president Colin Campbell said rules introduced over the last few seasons, including hurry-up faceoffs and line changes and the tag-up offside rule, shortened games. He said the new measures will “balance that out.”
“We still have to tell stories to the fans at home,” said Campbell. “The game was really flowing fast. In some ways, the game was going too fast.”
It has become a video world, it seems, because Bettman was not overly concerned that some U.S. newspapers, particularly the Los Angeles Times, have opted to reduce or even eliminate covering NHL games.
He said many newspapers are facing cutbacks in several departments, not only sports, and that most fans get their game news from the internet or broadcast sources.
Also, he was assured that the L.A. Times will continue to do features and columns on hockey.
“If this was five or 10 years ago, I’d be more concerned about traditional print media game coverage, but this is a newly wired world and our fans will adapt accordingly,” said Bettman.
He added that NHL fans “tend to be extremely tech-savvy and they’re availing themselves of this new digital world.”