All Star weekend is supposed to be a warm and fuzzy time for the NHL, but there were several serious issues for Commissioner Gary Bettman to address when he delivered his annual state of the league address today.
The biggest had to do with fighting in the game, not surprising in the aftermath of a senior league amateur player dying recently in Ontario and an AHL player suffering a seizure Friday, both the results of bouts on the ice. Regardless, Bettman cautioned the assembled scribes not to expect changes any time soon.
"I don't think there is any appetite to abolish fighting from the game," Bettman said. We will as always be evaluative, self reflective, but we're going to have to study things before we make changes, if we make changes."
Bettman said the league would likely take a closer look at the rules of engagement, in other words how fights are initiated, what happens with chin straps and helmets and what happens when there is a takedown in a fight. But considering that everyone of more than a dozen players and a few GMs I spoke with on media day opposed the notion of changing the status quo, chances are the exercise will ultimately be for naught.
On other subjects:
Bettman said he didn't believe it was necessary to increase the player escrow amount to 25 percent as the NHLPA has suggested. The escrow protects the league in case cumulative salaries exceed their allotted limit of hockey related revenues, and in the last few seasons, the fund has equaled 13.5 percent of salaries. "I don't think that (25 percent) is necessary," Bettman said. "Some have speculated that the reason the PA might do that is they don't trust our numbers. They think the business is in trouble. It's none of those things. I don't think we need to be anywhere near 25 percent or into the 20s."
With respect to the financially troubled Phoenix Coyotes, Bettman insisted that they "are not on life support." He said the teams needs a capital infusion through new ownership, but noted that in the past, the NHL has been able to fix financially troubled teams such as the Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators, who have all been in bankruptcy and are now successful.
Asked whether he was confident that all 30 teams would remain in their current location, the commissioner responded: "Based on everything I know as I stand here today, yes. That's my belief and my expectation."
On taking part in the 2014 Olympics, Bettman was non committal saying: "It hasn't been ruled in or ruled out." But he added the league and the players association have "conceptually" agreed on having a World Cup tournament on a regular basis beginning in 2011.