OTTAWA – After the NHL Board of Governors meetings finished up late Saturday morning, league commissioner Gary Bettman was more than willing to share the good news – namely, that the league is heading toward record revenues and attendance and that the city of Columbus was awarded hosting duties for the 2013 All-Star Game – but was less willing to talk pessimistically or aggressively when it came to some of his business’ tender areas.
Sure, Bettman said in a press conference before a throng of media the Phoenix Coyotes still-unresolved ownership situation may yet become untenable, but the league still is pursuing talks with three different groups to keep the team in Arizona. Sure, he said the financially strapped New Jersey Devils are in the midst of a feud between principal owners Jeffrey Vanderbeek and Ray Chambers – and that the league has been advancing the franchise money to help pay its bills – but characterized the team’s situation as “stable” and said he’s working on mediating a solution that would see one of the two men step up and take control of the team.
And sure, Bettman said the league was facing an unsettled labor situation with the collective bargaining agreement expiring this September, but he is leaving the NHL Players’ Association to decide when to begin formal negotiations and would rather everybody just enjoy the rest of the current season.
“My guess is, at least informally, we’ll have some discussions in the not-too-distant future," Bettman said. “The union has had some work to do. Don Fehr, obviously being somewhat new to the job, is going through a bit of a learning curve and wants to make sure he understands what his constituents want. So we’re patient. I'm not concerned about the time frame.”
It shouldn’t be any sort of shock that Bettman will never acknowledge the game’s sore spots. As the owners’ representative, he is paid to do exactly that. Heck, Bettman wouldn’t even acknowledge the optics that the league was throwing the money-losing Blue Jackets a bone with the cash-injection an All-Star Game provides.
“(The All-Star Game) is a request they’ve had on the table for years,” Bettman told THN.com. “Every time I go to Columbus, I’ve been asked the question. The stars aligned in terms of the calendar and we think this would be a terrific place for us to go next year. If it serves a greater level of interest, but this is something we’ve been focused on and they’ve been requesting for a number of years. We were there for the draft, and the city did a great job on that.”
Similarly, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, who spoke to reporters after Bettman’s press conference, was equally hesitant to say much to challenge the commissioner or tip his hand regarding labor talks.
“There will obviously be some preliminary discussions to set things up,” Fehr said of formal negotiations. “My preference will be when we get to the real significant sessions to do it at a point in time which is rather more likely to have players present easily than less. But we'll know sometime in the next few weeks how that’s going to play out.”
Fehr once again raised the notion of revenue sharing as a solution that worked in his past job running the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, but didn’t talk like a man who was gearing up for a heavily rhetorical public brawl. Neither did Bettman, who noted the union and league were able to settle the contested issue of hockey-related revenue without a protracted, negative battle.
Those black clouds might yet appear on the league’s horizon. But for now – and as a mild weekend in Ottawa shut down the famous Rideau Canal from All-Star Game events-interested skaters – both Bettman and Fehr were content the NHL’s ice was solid enough for the game to continue skating on.
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