Bettman wants answers from Pound

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

NEW YORK -- It may not be on the scale of a Middle East conflict, but the NHL and WADA recently exchanged heavy artillery salvos.

Recently, Dick Pound, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, a prominent lawyer and senior member of the International Olympic Committee, exploded a bomb during a speaking engagement in London, Ont., when accusing a third of the 700-plus NHL players of using performance enhancing substances.

Yesterday, from high above Manhattan in his 47th floor executive office, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman retaliated with a missile of his own.

In an exclusive Sunday Sun interview, Bettman had the following to say:

"We've sent a letter to Mr. Pound demanding to know on what he based his inflammatory statements. Everything he says is anecdotal. We deserve specifics, not hearsay and innuendos. Dick Pound insulted our players with his accusations. It wasn't fair, appropriate or right."

Bettman, a lawyer himself, thought Pound went too far with his barrage and expects to hear from the former 1960 Olympic swimming finalist before he and his NHL associates take the next step.

Meanwhile, Pound was on his way to Sweden for another anti-doping conference. Before departing overseas, Pound returned my call from the airport and said:

"This is a classic. The NHL refuses to allow its players to be tested, but I have conclusive information from club doctors, coaches, trainers and some players. I don't want to say more right now."

L'affair Pound is not causing Bettman any sleepless nights. He is too busy keeping the multi-billion-dollar NHL ship afloat, including the staff of 100 and the league's 88,000-square foot offices on two floors of the mid-Manhattan tower, the annual rent of which is about $4.5 million US.

"Prior to the labour problem we had a staff of 250, but had to let about 60% go," Bettman said. "We still had the full support of our 30 owners. The owners believed in what I was doing and where we were going. They were incredibly supportive. Still, they, just as the fans, missed the game terribly.

"The staff is now down to about 100, but slowly we are rehiring about 40. You have to be fiscally accountable for what you are doing. In 2002-2003 we lost $270 million. The same the following year. During the work stoppage, we lost less.

"In dealing with the union, I knew what I had to do. I also knew I owed it to the fans and the game. But the union's strategy under Bob (Goodenow) was to fight. All along, we were transparent. During the three years of negotiations we were consistent about the issues and we never changed. The fans realized it and that's why they remained supportive."

Staff morale during the 18-month stoppage wasn't an issue, according to Bettman.

However, employees involved in sponsorship programs were concerned about not doing any business.

Despite being the key strategist on the owners' side, Bettman is not taking all the credit.

He insists the final outcome of the negotiations was the result of teamwork and credits deputy commissioner Bill Daly, lawyers Dave Zimmerman and Julie Grand, as well as chief financial officer Craig Harnett.

Away from the office and Dick Pound, commissioner Bettman's focus is on his family, including wife Shelli, daughter Lauren, also a lawyer, son Jordan, a senior at Cornell University and second daughter Britney, 17, who has applied to Cornell.

At 53, Bettman is fit, both mentally and physically, and ready to take on his critics --wherever they come from.

Even if their missiles come from across the border.

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