With the league’s premier event underway in South Florida, Gary Bettman chose his state of the NHL address to suggest/threaten that the players take a long hard look at their negotiating stance. While Hockey fans might wish to compare the styles of the two teams, the flash and dash of the Lightning to the text book abiding play of the Flames, we instead can ponder the idea of locked doors at training camp and many cold winter months without NHL hockey.
Claiming he didn’t want to use the Stanley Cup finals as his bully pulpit, he promptly went ahead and did just that. Stating that progress won’t be made until the players come along on the concept of controlling salaries, Bettman said that he didn’t doubt the players resolve in the issue, but no one should make a mistake in thinking that the owners did not have a similar sense of the moment.
Issuing the ominous warning, he then went on to discuss the rise in attendance in the league and how the league is on track for a record attendance in the playoff rounds this year. With two of the smaller market teams vying for the Cup, it might be suggested that things are going well. But Bettman poured cold water on that idea pointing to the most recent participants in the Stanley Cup final and how only the larger payroll teams can remain consistent. His take on the idea of cost certainty is to level the field for all teams.
Not wishing to conjure more storm clouds over Tampa Bay, Bettman suggested he would be available for a comprehensive debate on the collective bargaining issues prior to the amateur draft in mid June. At least that delay should give hockey fans fourteen more days or so to enjoy hockey as we have known it. Come September it may be a whole new game, or it may be game that doesn't make it to the ice, only time, Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow know for sure.