That is how National Hockey league Commissioner Gary Bettman described his reaction to the turnaround the Tampa Bay Lightning have had in the early part of this year in an exclusive interview with ESPN 1040. “I knew that Jeff Vinik would be a terrific owner for Tampa.” Bettman said. “He has made two extraordinarily great hires. I knew the franchise would turn around, I knew that Tampa was a terrific hockey market, but even I am amazed at how quickly they have been able to do this, and that is a testament to Jeff and the people he has hired, starting with Steve Yzerman and Tod Leiweke”
Strong words of praise coming from the man that has had one headache after another when it came to the Tampa Bay Lightning over the previous couple of years.
Bettman also discussed how he was not surprised with the growth and impact a player like Steven Stamkos has had with the Lightning. “I am not surprised at all.” Bettman said. “We probably never had a point in our games history where we have had the young and talented players, the style of play that emphasis speed and skill in our game is very conducive to having players that are young and talented come into the game.”
The health of the National Hockey League is something that is always a hot topic amongst sports writers and talking heads, and as far as Bettman is concerned, the league continues to move forward with great momentum. “As with the two prior seasons, we’re anticipating another strong season, strong attendance, probably record revenues, hockey fans, NHL fans are passionate and loyal, and this season seems to be consistent with that so far.”
Lightning fans have proven that to be true in the early going, filling up the Brandon Ice Sports Forum in training camp as the first example of passion and loyalty, after multiple seasons of being down.
As the only commissioner to ever cancel an entire season due to work stoppage, one would assume that Gary Bettman would have some knowledge of the process that would be valuable to both Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, and David Stern, commissioner of the NBA, or at least posses some knowledge that they should be aware of. If he does, he is not talking about it. “I have no idea what the NBA and the NFL are aware of.” Bettman said. “I assume they are extraordinarily and capably led and run, and will do what they need to do that’s in the best interest of their games.”
Even if some view potential work stoppages in both leagues as an opportunity for the NHL to grow, Bettman is not buying into that concept. “I don’t think a work stoppage in any sport represents an opportunity, it’s not good for sports when the leagues miss games. It’s unfortunate for the fans, players, everybody with the business aspect of the games. Anything that anybody would even focus on doing would be short term and I don’t think is appropriate.”
A hot button topic amongst some NHL fans would be the instigator penalty. Something that appears to be here to stay. “I don’t think anyone is talking about getting rid of the instigator penalty.” Bettman said. “That’s not even something the General Managers have discussed for years.”
One of the evolving topics in the sports world is instant replay, how it should be used, and whether or not to expand it based on the technology that is available to us today. So is expanded instant replay coming to an NHL arena near you anytime soon? Probably not. “There has been, over time, some discussion about the possibility.” Bettman said. “It’s not something that has gotten a very good reception from the General Managers at this point.”
Instant replay and its use is something that is going to have to come to the forefront with the General Managers at some point in time. If the technology is there, there is no reason to miss calls that cost teams games.
With the television contract being up after this year, Bettman shrugged off the idea that the league could do better elsewhere when it came to television coverage. “Actually, Versus has been great. They have grown by almost 20 million homes since we have been on with them; they are close to 80 million homes right now.”
While Bettman is right that Versus has in fact grown in the time the NHL has been there, it still does not have the same pull as the former home of the NHL, ESPN does, and while Versus may have been good for the NHL, the league has to consider all its options for growing the game.
Even though Gary Bettman may not be the most popular commissioner of a professional sports league out there, you can hear the passion in his voice about growing the game, and wanting the best for everyone involved in it. And that is all you can really ask for in the guy steering the ship.
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