Bettman hears case for new NHL

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

Gary Bettman was in the building and, you'd figure, was savouring the scene.

The NHL commissioner couldn't go on the record to say that coming here for Game 3 - and watching the team he helped nurse from near extinction to where they could win a Stanley Cup again - made him feel any better than being anywhere else.

But he tiptoed around the edges of it.

"They say the same things to me when I go to Buffalo," he said.

"A lot of franchises, to use your word, had to be nursed. A league can't be healthy if it has a lot of franchises which have to be nursed. That's what we owed the game and that's what we owed our fans.

"These teams all embody the new NHL. Too many franchises were in too much trouble and couldn't be competitive."

There are those who think this Stanley season, reduced to small markets Carolina, Buffalo, Anaheim and Edmonton with the game predominantly on OLN in the U.S.A. is a waste.

"We don't look at that. We look at what is going on on the ice. It's terrific.

"Half the people seem to suggest it's a negative because the major markets aren't represented. The other half seem to think having these four teams in the Conference Finals shows the new NHL is a success and is a breath of fresh air.

"It's not just the playoffs. It's been like this all year. With three weeks left in the season we had 24 teams fighting for playoff positions."

Over time, says Bettman, he's sure there will be a balance between those perceived as major markets and small markets, good TV markets and bad ones.

"One thing is that the well-run teams will be more successful than those which aren't as well run," he said.

As for television, the commissioner said the league is exceptionally happy with the product on OLN, if not necessarily the numbers.

He said, as was the case with getting a new CBA, everybody should step back and be patient when it comes to television.

Bottom line, said the commissioner, is that Year 1 of the new NHL has been an overwhelming success story and the fact that will be self-evident when the league announces a new salary cap.

"It's going to go up. No doubt about it."

The commissioner said he was also happy to see that hitting hasn't been taken away by the new rule changes.

"We've seen some terrific hits in the playoffs. Everybody has adjusted."

There were those in the scrum, held between the first and second periods, who wanted a review from the commissioner about the scene in Rexall Place.

While the 6 p.m. start on a weekday - with more and more suits buying the tickets the deeper the Oilers get into the playoffs - the noise level is actually going down, not up.

But it was still a special environment you won't find anywhere else in the playoffs. And last night it took on a new twist when Paul Lorieau sang the first few bars of O Canada and then held up his microphone and let the crowd sing it the rest of the way.

"It's so alive. There's so much passion. It's spectacular," Bettman said of the scene.

A TV type asked if this was the loudest crowd he'd heard around the league.

Bettman said he couldn't say that at the risk of insulting fans elsewhere.

"Let's just say it's very loud. I haven't heard anybody louder."


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