Gary Bettman talks Olympics, lockouts and expansion

NHL


TORONTO — Does Gary Bettman have any regrets about the NHL skipping the 2018 Olympics? “None at all,” the commissioner said. The NHL’s (non-)Olympic participation took up a good portion of Bettman’s 30-minute Q&A session at the annual PrimeTime Sports Management Conference in Toronto on Monday. Interviewer Gord Miller peppered Bettman about the NHL skipping its first Olympics since 1998. “Why are we beating a dead horse on this?” Bettman said at one point. “We’re not going.” The commissioner also fielded questions from the media afterward. Highlights:

Olympics

  • “There were a handful of clubs that said, ‘Oh, Olympics. Great!’ There were a handful of clubs, a bigger handful, that said, ‘This is really too disruptive.’ Then the group in the middle said, ‘ehh.’ Then when the IOC took the position that they didn’t want to pay the expenses, the reaction from all the teams was, ‘Wait, we need to re-evaluate this.’ If they don’t value our participation, why are we disrupting our season?'”

  • “This came down to exposure and being able to promote the fact that we’re there. Sidney Crosby‘s goal in Vancouver — we’re not allowed to use that footage. Think about that.”

  • On if the NHL would return to the Olympics in the future: “Two responses. One: [IOC President] Thomas Bach said if you don’t go to Korea, you can’t come to Beijing. Well, OK. Thank you. The second is, if the Winter Olympics comes back to North America, I’m not saying we’d go, but it’s a different equation.”

World Cup

  • “We’d like to do a World Cup every four years.”

  • “2020 is interesting timing, though, because we, and the players association, each have a reopener [clause] on the collective bargaining agreement. That notice is in September of 2019, effective for September 2020, which is when the World Cup would be.”

  • On why NHL finds the World Cup more appealing than the Olympics: “It’s the element of control. It’s our event. As it relates to our players playing, and the conditions and the scheduling and the promotion, those are all things that are within our control.”

Expansion

  • “Under the right circumstances, maybe we’ll consider another expansion. But it’s not our manifest destiny as we sit here today.”

  • On adding a team to the Western Conference to balance the conferences with 16 teams each: “You don’t expand just to be symmetrical.”

  • On if there’s a shortlist of potential cities: “We’re not considering anybody. There are places that on an ongoing basis that express an interest in having a team. We listen, but we’re not doing anything with it.”

Potential work stoppage after the current CBA expires

  • “I don’t like work stoppages, but you do what you’ve got to do. You look at the way the game is being played — competitive balance, the health of the league, how much players are making — we needed a new system. I’m always quizzical of why a work stoppage gets laid at management. At the end of the day, the players, 12 years ago, 13 years ago, whatever it was, got what they would’ve gotten without the work stoppage. At the end of the day, we had to have a new system. As Arthur Levitt, who studied our economics at the time said, we were on the treadmill to oblivion. And the game wasn’t very good then. Why? Because we had teams with payrolls four times another team’s payrolls. And the only way teams with a quarter of a payroll of the higher-payroll teams could compete was to clutch and grab and hook and hold or, said another way, neutralize skill.”

  • “I hate work stoppages. I would much rather go to games. I would much rather go home at night and watch multiple games on television. But it will be interesting to see [which side] reopens [the CBA] and who doesn’t.”



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