COLUMBUS, Ohio – NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says he is aware of how frustrated Columbus Blue Jackets fans are about another losing season.
He’s also certain that the franchise has the right people in charge to turn the sorry club around.
“I’m aware of the fact that there’s a little bit of frustration by some fans in the on-ice performance,” he said of the Blue Jackets, 15-32-6 heading into Thursday night’s game against Dallas. “I can assure you, because I know it firsthand, there is nobody more frustrated than ownership and management. And nobody more committed to getting it right on the ice than ownership and management. I have no doubt about the future of this franchise because it’s in extremely strong, committed hands.”
A few hundred Blue Jackets held a rally recently to protest the club’s front office, which has overseen a terrible season. The team faltered at the start and hasn’t recovered. The Blue Jackets entered their most recent game with just 36 points—11 behind Edmonton, the team with the next-worst record.
Bettman has chosen to view the angry fans as a plus.
“I saw that somebody was trying to organize a pep rally. But that’s a good sign,” joked the commissioner, who is often met with jeers when introduced at games to make on-ice presentations. “It’s kind of like when you get booed when you go out on the ice, it’s better than when it’s quiet. I know about that firsthand.”
Columbus was recently awarded the 2013 NHL all-star game. The Blue Jackets, who hosted the draft in 2007, are averaging 14,526 spectators per game this season and 16,236 over their 11 seasons.
Earlier Thursday, Bettman was in Detroit for the announcement of next year’s Winter Classic. The game between Original Six rivals, the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, is expected to draw around 115,000 to Michigan’s “Big House.”
Bettman was asked if Columbus might someday host a Winter Classic game at 105,000-seat Ohio Stadium.
“We just did the all-star game,” he said with the laugh. “You want more right now?”
Bettman declined to discuss proposed conference realignment, which would most benefit teams such as Detroit and Columbus—the only Eastern time zone teams in the Western Conference. The NHL Players’ Association refused to allow the league to implement the new alignment.
“This league has had 13 different types of alignment and scheduling in the regular season since 1966. The playoffs, since the league took control of the Stanley Cup 80-some odd years ago, had 13 different formats,” Bettman said. “This is the first time that the union has weighed in. We’re not looking for a confrontation right now. We’ll deal with this at another time. But ultimately our hope and expectation is that we’ll wind up where we want.”
Bettman said the NHL was looking into the Blue Jackets’ recent last-second loss at Los Angeles in which the clock at Staples Center stopped for more than a second an instant before the winning goal was scored.
The league is in the process of putting high-definition cameras in all goal nets before the playoffs begin this spring. The cameras will have a direct feed to the league’s video-review room in Toronto.