The Canadian Press reports that the NHL and the players’ association will get back to negotiating table on Wednesday at an undisclosed location with U.S. federal mediators Scot L. Beckenbaugh and John Sweeney set to rejoin the process.
On Monday, the league cancelled all games through Dec. 30. Tuesday is Day 87 of the lockout.
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Tuesday also marks the 20th anniversary of Gary Bettman being named commissioner of the NHL. Tweeted Chris Johnston of The Canadian Press: “As Gary Bettman celebrates his 20th anniversary as NHL commissioner, it’s amazing to think only six men have run the league since 1917.”
The six are: Frank Calder (1917-43), Red Dutton (1943-46), Clarence Campbell (1946-77), John Ziegler (1977-92), Gil Stein (1992-93) and Bettman (1993-present).
Below is a column Michael Farber (now with Sports Illustrated) wrote for The Gazette after Bettman was hired:
NHL opens up to an outsider
PUBLISHED IN THE GAZETTE ON DEC. 12, 1992
After a lifetime of dueling-banjos inbreeding, of staying in the clan, of assuming the business of hockey belonged to hockey men and not businessmen, the National Hockey League opened a door to the outside world.
Gary Bettman walked through it yesterday.
He is 40 years old. He is an expert in labour and licensing. But the most significant thing on his resume is this: he is an outsider.
Bettman is the No. 3 man in the National Basketball Association, the godfather of the salary cap, and if he has no clue where he was when Paul Henderson scored The Goal, he probably knows where he was when Willis Reed hobbled onto the court to help beat the Los Angeles Lakers. Who cares? The first NHL commissioner will like hockey more than John Ziegler in any case, but being able to recount the particulars of Boston’s Too Many-Men penalty doesn’t matter much any more. Business does. The facts of business life are CEOs jump from corporation to corporation and if you have a track record – and Bettman does – you can produce and package almost any sort of widget.
The NHL search committee was clever enough to know it had to go outside the family. In ditching the Deliverance pose, the league might have found its deliverance.
Bettman came across well in his first press conference in Palm Beach. He spoke with a forthrightness and an accent direct from the blues at Madison Square Garden. He promised a full review of league matters and although he skated when asked his opinion about fighting and a Dream Team, the generalities and evasions were without Zieglerian pomposity. Bettman obviously knows the route. When asked if he thought television was his first priority, he said no, collective bargaining.
The collective bargaining agreement, forged after a 10-day strike last spring that sealed Ziegler’s demise, expires after this season, and Bettman’s first call after his appointment was to Players Association director Bob Goodenow. Bettman has to conclude a partnership with, by nature, the least militant group of athletes you can find, and a salary cap and a revised revenue sharing program should be an easy sell. As Quebec governor Marcel Aubut said from Florida, “We have everything under control but our labour costs.” There is no one better equipped for the job than Bettman.
But Bettman should wade into other areas Feb. 1 when he takes over as the game’s – not merely the owner’s – commissioner. In no particular order, we suggest:
* The pension case. In October the NHL and NHL Pension Society lost a $25-million-plus Ontario court judgment in a case brought by Gordie Howe et. al. Now it should drop the appeal. There is no reason the league should be at war with pillars of the game such as Howe and Bobby Hull, especially now that there is $100 million in fresh expansion money.
* Drug policy. The NHL’s level of sophistication has been, “Oooooooh, drugs are bad.” This likely is true enough, but it doesn’t address the problem. Top cop Ziegler would pass out discretionary suspensions for anyone dumb enough to get caught or let the word leak out, which discouraged players from seeking rehabilitation. The NBA has a humane program, one that encourages dependent players to get help but also has lifetime bans for chronic offenders. There are ways back into the NBA, but at least there are no Steve Howes. The NHL, reeling from John Kordic’s death, can borrow this one whole.
* The Dream Team. Don’t. The NHL has its Olympics, which goes by the name of Canada Cup. The NHL season would have to start in September and end near July in 1993-94, but the real drawback is the Dream Team has been done, and no one ever will do it better than Bettman’s NBA in Barcelona. Let it go. You try to recreate Woodstock, you get Altamont.
* Singular collective team names. Ban them. A sure sign of a league’s decline is when it permits verbal assaults like Tampa Bay Lightning or, back on Bettman’s old turf, Miami Heat. You get nothing but “s” in major league baseball and the National Football League. Make the Miami expansion team plural while the Disney team in Anaheim should, of course, be called The Mighty Ducks a la Orange County.
* Expansion. The NHL has improved the gene pool by admitting Disney and H. Wayne Huizenga of Blockbuster Video. Now give the new owners a legitimate shot at the talent pool for their $50 million. Instead of being able to protect 14 players, the 24 clubs should be allowed to only stow 12. (Some tough calls there in Ottawa and San Jose.)
* Playoffs. In his mad five-month campaign to be commissioner before he turtled yesterday morning in what is being portrayed as a magnanimous gesture, NHL president Gil Stein flitted about many issues but the most important one – the playoffs. This is where the league makes its money and its name, and the system is in need of repair. Enough with Montreal-Boston every year. Change the format so No. 1 plays No. 8 in each conference. But Bettman’s real test is restoring lustre to the Stanley Cup. Unlike baseball or football, where general interest peaks at the World Series or Super Bowl, many NHL cities lose interest in the playoffs after the home team is out. The Stanley Cup has to become an event again.
* Black uniforms. Enough. Halt the black plague. Psychologists and market researchers love them, but the fashion fad has gone too far. Be a primary-color commissioner.
* Fighting. As they say in New York, fuggedaboudit. This is the freak show, the uncivility that has a basic emotional appeal and thus a place on the fringes of the NHL. The NHL already has it under control, and the commissioner should skip the debate and proceed directly to the treasure hunt for the missing rules concerning stick fouls and interference everyone swears they saw two months ago.
Any more questions, ask. Unlike Ziegler, we’re always available.