DALLAS -- Gary Bettman came under fire yesterday for showing a lack of leadership.
Oilers governor Cal Nichols fired the latest salvo at the NHL commissioner after the board of governors turned down a proposal to change the unbalanced schedule for the second time in two months that would have allowed more inter-conference play.
A frustrated Nichols told reporters that a majority of the NHL governors voted for the schedule to be changed next season, but the matter died because they couldn't agree on a format that was going to be enough to pass a two-thirds majority. Thus, the two proposals failed by one vote with 19-of-30 teams supporting a change.
"Politics always seems to enter into it," said Nichols. "We should be more concerned about the future of the game than specific interests or, 'This is going to cost me a few more thousand dollars to travel a few extra miles.' This shouldn't be about that. It should be about the game."
Nichols said this is where Bettman has to take charge.
"Encouraging those to do the right thing for the game," said Nichols. "I don't know about individual conversations with others, but obviously they occur and I guess (Bettman's) decision to just sort of allow it to happen amongst ourselves is another frustrating thing. We voted for change and then we got into all these (different options). That shouldn't matter. We already said we wanted change. We should just pick the best one and go ahead. If there's disagreement, you've got to talk to people and convince them. It doesn't always work, but most of the time it does."
The board voted on two proposals: The first would have seen teams play the other conference in a home-and-home series. The second would have allowed for teams to play the other conference at least once. Both were struck down.
The Senators voted for the second proposal to accept the concession of one game against the other conference. The Canadiens voted against both. The Oilers, Flames and Canucks supported both proposals.
The decision left Maple Leafs president Richard Peddie and GM John Ferguson Jr. upset as well. The Leafs won't travel to Western Canada -- where they have a whole host of fans -- to face Edmonton, Calgary or Vancouver.
"I don't think it's good for Canadian hockey fans at all," said Peddie. "We're 20% of the league. All six Canadian teams speak up, we're not shy. Some American clubs don't speak up, the Canadians always do. I'm disappointed. I thought we'd get something done.
"It's a shame that we're not going to be in Vancouver, Calgary or Edmonton next year. In fact, we're not going to play them at all and I think that's wrong."
Bettman came to his own defence when asked about Nichols' comments.
"He didn't share that view with me. The fact is, there wasn't enough support to make a change," said Bettman, who admitted he supported change to a format where each team would have played everybody at least once. "Because we're in the middle of a three-year rotation, some clubs felt it was only fair and appropriate to conclude it. Some clubs lose sight of that fact.
"While some of you think I throw lightning bolts, the fact is I do report to a board and the board, on certain things, has the final say. I'm comfortable that finishing the three-year rotation is the right thing to do."
Not everybody was upset because the matter will be revisited after the 2007-08 season.
"We like the way the schedule works. We love playing Toronto and we love playing Ottawa," said Sabres GM Darcy Regier. "We're certainly not going to complain about the decision. I come at it from a Buffalo perspective. For the Buffalo Sabres and our fans, the schedule works well."