October 01, 2002
Uniondale, N.Y. (AP) â" When NHL commissioner Gary Bettman ventured
out to Long Island for an 11 a.m. exhibition game, he saw something
that wouldâve seemed impossible not too long ago.
The seats at Nassau Coliseum were filled, with thousands of young
hockey fans supporting the once-dormant New York Islanders.
Gone are the days of failed ownerships of the franchise that once
ruled the NHL with four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83. Charles
Wang and Sanjay Kumar are beginning their third season running the
Islanders, a team that made the playoffs last season for the first
time since 1994.
âLong Island has always been great for hockey,â Bettman said Tuesday
during New Yorkâs 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils. âWhat this
franchise needed was new ownership, and we couldnât have done any
better than Charles Wang and Sanjay Kumar.
âTheir commitment to hockey, to the Islanders and to Long Island is
whatâs made this situation work.â
On Tuesday, all 16,234 tickets were given out by the Islanders to
school children in grades 3-8.
As the team languished in the standings year after year, fans stopped
coming to aging Nassau Coliseum, one of the leagueâs oldest arenas.
It got to the point that if a new venue couldnât be built in cash-
strapped Nassau County, then the future of the franchise would be in
But not in Bettmanâs mind.
âWeâre thrilled about days like today,â he said. âWeâre thrilled =
have Charles and Sanjay own the franchise, but we never had doubts
about Long Island.â
Wang has enjoyed his time with the team, and still has visions of a
new home for the club. It just might take some time.
âWe are going through an economic crisis now,â he said Tuesday. âItâ=
something that we eventually will get to. Iâm sure weâll build a new
âMeanwhile, even if we donât put a shovel into the ground for four or
five years, we still have to make this a comfortable place, a place
that people want to take their families to, and put a good,
competitive product on the ice. And weâre doing that.â
While the Islandersâ picture is brighter, the issue of a new labor
agreement is not so clear and will need to be dealt with soon,
The NHLâs contract with the playersâ union runs through the 2003-04
season, but Bettman doesnât want to wait too long to get talks
started with union head Bob Goodenow.
âWe do talk on a regular basis and the union knows that we are ready,
willing, able and anxious to begin negotiations at any time,â Bettman
said. âBut the problem is, I think Bob was quoted a couple of weeks
ago saying that the union is not prepared to sit down until we make a
proposal that theyâre interested in.
âObviously there canât be any preconditions to negotiations and
obviously there are issues that the league is going to have to
address. My own belief is the sooner we address them, the better itâs
going to be.â
Bettman said the fact baseball was able to reach an agreement with
its players this summer for the first time without a work stoppage
has no bearing on upcoming NHL talks.
âThe relationship is different, the systems are different, the
economics of the sport are different, the dynamics of free agency and
the like are different,â he said. âI think that itâs not possible to =
take one leagueâs experience and transpose it on the other.â
He did concede to one similarity.
âI do believe that not having a work stoppage is better than having
one, and so you try to avoid it if at all possible,â Bettman
said. âWeâre going to need to really to work hard together to fix the
Gaining labor peace and reaching out to youngsters in an effort to
create new hockey fans clearly appeals to the commissioner, who has
been in that position since 1993 and has a contract through the 2008
âTo have 16,000 young kids from Long Island here I think is great for
them because thereâs a lot going on around the game that is
educational and fun,â Bettman said. âItâs also great for the
franchise because I hope all of these kids go home and tell their
parents what a good time they had and that they want to come back.
âThis is grass-roots marketing at its best