NHL commish hopes to resolve issues soon

BY foxsports • January 20, 2012

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Proposed realignment was among the issues NHL commissioner Gary Bettman discussed Wednesday at the Honda Center before Anaheim's 6-2 victory over Phoenix.

In terms of the proposed realignment plan being shelved for likely another season because of the player associations' concerns over travel and playoff-hunt equality, the commissioner spoke of a developing process he hopes will eventually result in change for the better.

"I think the most significant thing I can say about that is the governors overwhelmingly were in support of the plan," Bettman said. "It's something we thought as a league was the right thing to do for our fans, for the team, for the game. But we made the decision based on the position the union was taking to try not to be confrontational right now."

"Ultimately our goal will be to implement the will of the board."

While the split over realignment appears to be early jockeying between the two sides in advance of the labor negotiations, Bettman suggested that preliminary discussions could begin shortly.

"My guess is at some point in the next few weeks we'll probably sit down, assuming the union's comfortable doing that," he said. "There's a pretty steep learning curve in terms of the business, and from the union's standpoint, what the players are focused on. And we've been respectful of that process, so whenever they're ready, we're ready. We've been ready."

Referencing the desire to conduct collective bargaining discussions without extraneous public speculation, the commissioner declined to divulge particulars when asked about whether major or minor changes were necessary in the reevaluation of the collective bargaining agreement, which expires Sept. 15.

"I am not going to discuss collective bargaining. The fact is anything that we have to say about collective bargaining, the system, the agreement, we'll do it with the players association quietly," Bettman said.

"The fact is we're having another terrific season. This will be another record-breaking season for us, both in terms of revenues and attendance, and I don't see any reason for anybody to be distracted by collective bargaining, certainly not now. Good try, though."

Asked what had been learned from the previous work stoppage, Bettman referenced the league's fortified standing since the signing of the previous collective bargaining agreement.

"I'm not sure it's about learning lessons because the lesson that everybody knows that it's not one you have to learn, is that you want to not have work stoppages. They're not fun. They're counterproductive," the commissioner said.

"But if – if – you're in a situation as we were, where there were fundamental problems that had to be addressed, you've got to address the problems because you can't live with a dysfunctional system. And so it's not that we learned anything, it was we did what we had to do at the time, and obviously you look back over the last 6-1/2 seasons, the league is in a stronger position than it was when we started collective bargaining on that agreement."


BIG HOUSE CLASSIC

According to a report by MLive.com's Ansar Khan, the NHL, Detroit Red Wings and University of Michigan have solidified plans to hold the 2013 Winter Classic inside Michigan Stadium, which with an official capacity of 109,901 is the largest stadium in North America and the third-largest stadium in the world. The event would pit the Red Wings against the Toronto Maple Leafs and likely draw thousands of fans into Michigan from Toronto and Western Ontario.

As reported by Khan, a separate rink would also be constructed inside Detroit's Comerica Park that would house a Detroit-Toronto alumni game and potentially the Great Lakes Invitational, an annual late-December NCAA hockey tournament featuring Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, and an invited at-large team.

When asked about any impending announcement, Commissioner Gary Bettman implied that the timetable to reveal the 2013 Winter Classic would likely be moved up from previous seasons, admitting "I don't think the announcement will hold until the summer."

"The things that we're working on are closer than we've been at this point. But again, remember last year we were a little bit delayed because we had, what, three major events in six weeks. We had the two outdoor games and we had the All-Star Game. So we really weren't in a position to focus on it. But with All-Star coming up in a couple weeks, I think we'll be able to move the timetable up," Bettman said in Anaheim on Wednesday.

The game would mark the third time the event was held in a football stadium and would easily surpass the attendance record at a Winter Classic game, set in the inaugural 2008 event when 71,217 fans packed in Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium to watch the visiting Penguins defeat the Sabres 2-1 in a shootout. Michigan Stadium currently holds the all-time hockey attendance record when an announced crowd of 113,411 flooded into Michigan Stadium to watch the Wolverines defeat the rival Spartans on December 11, 2010, an event dubbed "The Big Chill".

Michigan State also proved to be a trend-setter, hosting the Wolverines at Spartan Stadium in front of 74,544 fans on Oct. 6, 2001. "The Cold War" ended in a 3-3 tie when Spartan forward and current Winnipeg Jet Jim Slater scored to tie the game with 47 seconds remaining. Mike Cammalleri (Michigan / two goals), Duncan Keith (Michigan State) and Adam Hall (Michigan State) also scored in the historic game.

While nothing official has been set, one thing appears certain: any dreams of a west coast Winter Classic played at Dodger Stadium or San Francisco's AT&T Park should be shelved. This may come as no surprise to many, as temperatures reached nearly 80 degrees in Los Angeles this past New Year's Day. But for the 13,000-plus who flocked to a Caesar's Palace parking lot on a warm September evening in Las Vegas to watch the Kings and Rangers (and Zamboni-driving Roman gladiators) in a 1991 exhibition battle, they can attest that when there's a will, there's an [Appian] way.

"There's no question that this club and this area can host a major event," Bettman said Wednesday about the possibility of the city of Anaheim staging a major NHL event, such as an All-Star Game. "Maybe not an outdoor game, and that's nothing against the area. It's just the weather, I don't think would be conducive."


HELMET CONSIDERATION

Taylor Hall exercised Thursday, only two days removed from receiving stitches from above his left eye to near the top of his head following a startling collision with two teammates during warm-ups in which he was struck in the face by Corey Potter's errant skate blade. The Oilers wore helmets during warm-ups Thursday prior to their 1-0 loss in St. Louis, as reported by Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal,  and there were discussions throughout the league over whether the use of helmets during warm-ups should be encouraged, perhaps even mandated.

Los Angeles Kings head coach Darryl Sutter did not sound like he's in favor of any type of radical helmet reform, as reported by Rich Hammond of LAKings Insider.

"They can wear wigs and sunglasses," Sutter said to reporters. "I don't care, as long as they're ready. It doesn't bother me, one way or the other."

"I still like the players having an identity. I do. I think that's still really important in the game. I think it's important that you grandfather the (face) shields in, because the kids grow up with the shields. But I still think that identity, and people seeing the players, I still think there's something there to that. And I like that. Quite honest, as hard as we push them to be ready and prepared, for some of those guys, it's a cool thing for them, because it's the only time they get to do it."


Game of the Weekend
New York Rangers at Boston Bruins
Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012, 1 p.m. ET

First place will be up for grabs in the Eastern Conference Saturday afternoon when the suddenly wobbly New York Rangers, who have lost by three goals in three of their last five games, visit a Boston squad that salvaged a 2-2 road trip with four third-period goals in a 4-1 win at New Jersey on Thursday. The Bruins will be opening a stretch of three games in four nights, including a trip down to Philadelphia on Sunday, making Saturday's game even more important for confidence and momentum. If it's a physical, low-scoring battle decided by a key special teams play, we like the Rangers; if the speed of the game opens up, this should be Boston's game to win at home.


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