October 31, 2002
Toronto (AP) Commissioner Gary Bettman sounded like a man ready for
a long, drawn-out war Thursday as he discussed the looming labor
negotiations in 2004 with the NHL Players' Association.
Unlike major league baseball, which avoided a work stoppage with a new
collective bargaining agreement, the NHL is ready to suffer until it
gets what it wants.
"If the choice is short-term pain versus bleeding to death over time,
then we're going to take the short-term pain because we have to fix
it," Bettman said. "We owe it to our fans to fix it. If there's any
guarantee that you want me to give fans, it's that we're going to fix it.
"We simply don't have a choice."
At a time when scoring is up, fighting is down, games are shorter and
the league crackdown on obstruction and new hurry-up faceoff rules are
working, the commissioner's attention was largely on 2004.
"Despite how strong the league has gotten, there are problems that are
going to have to be addressed so that our fans in Edmonton and Calgary
and Ottawa and Montreal and Vancouver don't have to worry about their
franchises, because I don't want them to do that," Bettman said.
"We've had phenomenal revenue growth, but not withstanding that
growth, salaries have increased at an even faster rate. So we now have
a disparity between revenues and expenses. And there are disparities
among what teams are allowed to spend.
"And that's a terribly inflationary process, which makes it difficult
for teams to retain talent, it makes teams spend more than they can
afford to, and it drives up ticket prices and the cost of doing business."
Bettman said he won't be satisfied, no matter how long a work
stoppage, until the new collective bargaining agreement achieves a
system where all clubs can be economically stable and compete with the
top clubs in the league.
"We're going to fix it," he said. "If the union doesn't agree, that
may result in some difficult times