Gary Bettman has served as commissioner of the NHL since Feb. 1, 1993. The 54-year-old native of Queens, N.Y., has been in charge of hockey's top professional league through two lockouts (1994-95, 2004-05), expansion (Minnesota, Atlanta, Nashville, Columbus) and the transfer of four clubs (Hartford to Carolina, Winnipeg to Phoenix, Minnesota to Dallas, Quebec City to Colorado). He took a few minutes this week to address a wide range of current issues facing the puck game with Sun Media reporter Ryan Pyette.
Q. The schedule, with its emphasis on divisional games, has been a source of much complaint. Are teams playing the same teams too often?
The surveys we've done with our fans suggest a majority are in favour of the type of schedule we have now. People are asking why do I have to see a team from the other conference when I don't know their players? Fans want to see the players and teams they know. They want more of those rivalries. That's why there's more divisional games.
Q. With the emergence of Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alexander Ovechkin, should the league ensure its stars visit every arena every season?
Go beyond the few and how many teams have players like Crosby or Ovechkin? The schedule is in constant discussion but the bottom line is no one has been able to develop one that everyone agrees is better than the one we have right now.
Q. I it bothersome that Wayne Gretzky is still the most recognizable face in hockey and he's no longer playing the game?
Not at all. Wayne Gretzky is in a class by himself. He is one of those iconic figures in a sport and I believe one of those personalties that transcends the sport he's associated with. He's an original -- a one in a million -- so I see no problem with it.
Q. Whose responsibility is it to market the new stars? The league, teams or players?
I think it's a combination of all three. Players have their individual endorsements but we're seeing a new spirit of co-operation when it comes to promoting the game. The players have given more access then ever before, especially to our media partners. It's the whole package and it all helps.
Q. Are the southern U.S. and California markets still of greatest concern to the league?
That's not true. Carolina is up double digits (percentage) and Tampa Bay won a Stanley Cup and plays to crowds of 19,000-20,000. The markets we're having trouble with is some of our more traditional market places and that's more of a performance issue than anything else.
Q. Will there be NHL games shown exclusively on the Internet on a payper-view basis?
There will be games broadcast on streaming video. How they are delivered, that will be worked out.
Q. Will there be playoff rounds added and more teams in the NHL post- season?
Talk is cheap and there's a lot that has been written and said that is pure speculation. We're happy with the playoff format we have right now and don't see a reason to change it. We had spectacular playoff races the past few years where one win or loss determined whether a team made it or not. Every game right from October is important.
Q. Do you ever see an NHL with no fighting?
We haven't had that discussion because we haven't changed the rules on it. It's part of the game and always has been. It goes in ebbs and flows and I actually think fighting is up this year. Winning is and has always been the name of the game and teams are going to do whatever it takes to win. That's what they're interested in.
Q. Will we ever see a tie game again and does the shootout need to be expanded from three shooters to five?
What we've found is fans would rather leave the rink with their team losing than have a tie. The shootout provides for creativity and excitement and everyone is on their feet during it. I think the format is fine where it is right now and doesn't need to be changed.
Q. Will the NHL extend the Olympic break in 2010 to benefit the participating players?
We're not taking a month off. We're going to the Olympics in Vancouver and it's going to be better planned than it was in going to Torino. With the lab our disagreement, that (Torino) deal was put together with six months of planning b ecause the players wanted to go.
Q. Will NHL participation be a determining factor in where future Winter Olympics are held?
It's one factor. Olympics are always easier in North America in terms of travel and wear and tear on the players, plus TV coverage. But we're not shutting down the league for an extended period of time. We should never forget that the Stanley Cup is the ultimate quest for our players and teams.
Q. Is Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro's 15-year contract a slap in the face to the salary cap system?
I'm not going to specifically comment on R ick's deal. It would seem to make sense for teams to sign players to short term deals. We're definitely in an era of more liberalized free agency. But you look at a player like Marty Brodeur who has been with one team (the New Jersey Devils) and has stayed despite numerous opportunities to test the free agency market.
Q. Is the unique drive to get Vancouver toughie Rory Fitzpatrick voted into the NHL all-star game mak ing a mockery of the selection process?
I always believed sports are supposed to be fun. Anything that brings attention to the sport like that is positive. We want the fans to enjoy themselves. That's what sports are all about.