With the NBA on the verge of losing the entire season, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is confident things are headed in the right direction for his league as it plays out the final year of its current collective bargaining agreement.
“Our game is stronger now than it’s ever been on the ice. We’re competitive, it’s more exciting and more entertaining,” Bettman told Sportsnet Monday. “Many, if not all of the changes that we made seven years ago have seen the results in where we are now. Nobody ever wants to lose any time due to a work stoppage, let alone an entire season, but we had profound problems.
“And the only lesson you can take from where we were is, if you’re going to miss time, when you come back, you certainly need to have begun to address your problems.”
With the current seven-year agreement set to expire in September, Bettman is more focused on the season at hand than getting an early jump on labour talks.
“We’re not even focused on it,” Bettman said. “(The NHLPA) have a new executive director … Don Fehr has been on his fall tour; he has told us with the learning curve he has to go through that he, at the earliest, won’t be ready to focus on collective bargaining at least until the all-star break.”
Bettman also had a chance to respond to the league’s ability to protect its players after yet another star, this time Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, suffered a concussion after getting run over by Boston’s Milan Lucic.
The league announced Monday that Lucic would face no further discipline for his role in the incident.
“They’ve been extremely thoughtful, (director of player safety Brendan Shanahan) obviously knows the game very well; he understands what happens on the ice and he reviews the cases very thoroughly,” Bettman said.
The commissioner also believes the videos Shanahan uses to explain the rational for supplemental discipline have gone over well with fans and media, but most importantly the players.
“It’s good for the players to see what can and will be tolerated,” Bettman said.
In regards to the increasing focus on concussions, Bettman believes the NHL has been vigilant in ensuring the players are protected, but that most cases of concussions aren’t the result of hits to the head.
“The biggest increase in concussions over the last couple of years has been from collisions, not hits to the head,” Bettman said. “It has been from players banging their heads on the boards or the ice or taking a puck to the head. There is no silver bullet to deal with a very complex issue like concussions.”
Bettman was also quick to defend fighting’s place in the modern game.
“Fighting historically has been a small part of the game, Bettman said. “This is a physical, emotional, edgy game and fighting has acted to keep things under control when other things might take place such as stick work, which if you go back 20 years and look at some of the things that took place, we are in a far better place in terms of aggressive acts that have no place in a game than we’ve ever been.”