DETROIT - Goalie equipment will keep shrinking if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has his way.
In his annual state-of-the-sport news conference prior to Game 1 of the championship series on Saturday night, Bettman said he expects greater progress will be made now that the NHL Players' Association in-house problems appear to have been remedied. The association's assent is needed for major equipment alterations.
With scoring slightly down this season, Bettman said a recently-struck committee will restart the effort to make goalies' pads smaller. He left no doubt where he stands on the issue.
"I wouldn't mind if there was a little more open space to shoot at," he said.
Bettman clearly is delighted that "two highly-skilled powerhouse teams" in Detroit and Pittsburgh are meeting in the final. The matchup is a stamp of approval on efforts since the lost 2004-2005 season to accentuate skill and speed.
The NHL surpassed for the first time the 21 million regular-season attendance mark, which represented 84 per cent capacity of the 30 league arenas.
Bettman said revenues will be a record $2.5 billion for 2007-2008, which means the salary cap will once again increase.
Hits on NHL.com are way up, NHL Network cable is continuing to find its way into more homes, and hoped-for growth in U.S. TV ratings is happening, too, said the commissioner, who never fails in these annual sessions to present a multitude of reasons why his league is in good shape.
Besides moving to reduce the size of goalie equipment, a decision is expected soon on the site and teams to be involved in Winter Classic 2.
Each team will play 18 interconference games next season. That's up from 10, and it means each team will play ever other team at least once. A full interlocking schedule isn't in the cards though, and inflated travel costs due to fast-increasing fuel prices is a big reason why.
For the second straight season, the regular-season openers will be played in Europe - Stockholm and Prague this time. Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and the New York Rangers will be the teams making the trips. Last year, the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings opened the season in London.
Bettman was asked why NHL and NBA playoffs games and a major-league baseball game were all schedule for the same city on Saturday night. Couldn't the NHL have started the championship series earlier and tried to avoid scheduling conflicts with other leagues?
No, said Bettman. TV commitments were made long ago, and the league didn't want to rush the Red Wings and the Penguins to begin the final because several days were required to organize events leading up to the first drop of the puck.
"I'm not happy about it but...that's life," he said.
No talks on expansion are foreseen, he added.
Regarding recent announcements of stepped-up Olympic drug testing, Bettman seemed secure in his league's system of testing athletes.
"I don't believe we have a problem," he said. "It hasn't been an issue."
Stricter doping control?
"Bring it on," said Bettman.
On ticket prices, which have priced big-league hockey out of the budgets of many Canadians, Bettman said that NHL prices are reasonable when compared to those in other pro sports.