BOSTON – So it turns out NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is just as flummoxed and frustrated with all the controversy around video review and officiating as everyone else is. The only difference, of course, is he’s actually in a position to do something about it.
When asked what he thought in Game 3 of the Western Conference final when a hand pass led to the overtime goal, Bettman responded with some rare non-lawyerspeak candor. “What I thought was it would be good if I kept my head from exploding,” Bettman said. “I was unhappy. We all were. If you ask the officials on the ice, they weren’t happy. If you ask (director of officiating) Stephen Walkom, he wasn’t happy. Colin Campbell and hockey operations, they weren’t happy. I know Bill (deputy commissioner Daly) was unhappy. We were all unhappy.”
Bettman knew the main topic of conversation would be around video review and what the league will do about it moving forward and he got out in front of the story, saying the league will conduct a complete review this off-season with an eye to likely making changes to the process. It’s pretty clear, though, that the league doesn’t have a lot of interest in moving backward on this, which means if anything it will be expanded. With that said, it will not be to the point where everything will be subject to review.
“What I can say with absolute certainty is that everyone involved is going to take a hard look at this issue in the upcoming months,” Bettman said. “No one should doubt that we want to get it right. The fundamental question is the it. When to intervene and what are the instances that require doing so. And of course, how to do it without destroying the fabric and essential elements of our game. We want every call to be correct. Everyone does.”
Fair enough. But ever since the 2004-05 lockout, the league has been obsessed with game flow. Most games go in the two-hour, 30-minute range and the league doesn’t want to see that increase substantially. Of course, you could argue that the increased time would be acceptable in exchange for actually getting the calls right. And really, would there be that many instances where a call would require so much scrutiny that it would stretch the limit of fans’ patience?
“It’s not as simple as just saying, ‘Review everything,’ because the essential elements of excitement, the flow of our game, would be inalterably interrupted if we reviewed everything,” Bettman said. “It’s just not possible.”
Bettman touched on a range of other issues, including:
• Both the league and the NHL Players’ Association have the right in September to opt out of the current collective bargaining in 2020. The two sides have had preliminary talks, but there has been no pressure of a deadline, so it should come as no surprise that things aren’t moving along at breakneck speed.
“When you think about where the game is and the state of the business of the game and how it’s grown,” Bettman said, “there’s a lot to be said for labor peace.”
NHLPA executive director Don Fehr was on hand and said much of the same, acknowledging that the players’ most pressing concern continues to be escrow. And there is simply no easy way around that issue. “Obviously it’s an irritant to the players,” Fehr said. “And from time to time, it can be a big one. The question is how you do it. You could fix escrow by cutting salaries and I don’t think the players are interested in that.”
• The league continues to remain non-committal on the issue of a professional women’s hockey league. In the past, Bettman has said the league will not get involved as long as there is an existing professional league and he reiterated that, but he also surprisingly said the NHL is not definitely committed to forming a league even if the existing National Women’s Hockey League collapses. “At this particular point in time, we’re letting the dust settle in terms of what’s ultimately going to happen with the remaining existing league and we’ve heard talk of another league being formed,” Bettman said. “Whether or not it’s appropriate for us to get involved with a league, at least starting our own league, is something that not everybody agrees on.”
• The league elected not to have pre-season games in China next fall, something Daly said was because of celebrations surrounding the 70th anniversary of the rise to power of the Communist Party and Mao Tse Tung and an inability to book arrangements in arenas. “That doesn’t mean we’re slowing down any kind of Chinese strategy,” Daly said. “We’re going to double down on our efforts in China. We’re going really ramp up our presence there.”
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