Gary Bettman spoke to reporters for over 30 minutes Thursday night at New York City’s Westin At Times Square to talk about the state of the NHL lockout and CBA talks. Here are some highlights (if you can call them that) of what the commissioner had to say:
“I think like all of you and our fans this, for me, has been a week that has been if nothing else an emotional roller coaster. We had put in place a process that we hoped would move things along after having tried everything else – whether or not it was big groups, small groups, mediation. And that was to have owners and players meet. And that happened on Tuesday. And the sense that was reported to me was there was [a] great deal of optimism, good communication and hope. We reported that to the Board of Governors on Wednesday and that sense of optimism, though, was something that almost inexplicably disappeared Wednesday afternoon when the four owners returned to the bargaining process.We’re at a loss to explain what happened. But things were not of the same tone as they had been on Tuesday.”
“The characterization that I’ve just heard transmitted to us that we were close, that reminds me of the last time the union said we were close and we were a billion dollars apart. I’m not sure that - spinning us all into an emotional frenzy over maybe we’re close and we’re going to be playing hockey tomorrow is terribly unfair to our fans and it’s unfair to this process. We’re going to take a deep breath and look back at where we are and what needs to be accomplished, but we have moved dramatically. We are proposing a long-term system that will pay the players, billions and billions of dollars over its term. But we have to have a system that works right. It’s all a part of the package, I am disappointed beyond belief that we are where we are tonight and we’re going to have to take a deep breath and try and regroup.”
On drop-dead date to get deal done:
“I keep hearing that we have some magic date. You know what my magic date was? It was Oct. 11 when we should’ve opened the season with a new collective bargaining agreement. And the fact of the matter is, we’ll get to a point and at that point we’ll conclude we can’t have a season with integrity and then we’ll have to make a tough decision. I am certainly hoping that we don’t get to that place. But when we do, we’ll be there. We haven’t set a date. No, we have not set one.”
Believe you can get deal done with distrust?
“I reject the notion that there’s distrust. I don’t even understand what that word means. The fact of the matter is what you’re witnessing is very tough bargaining. We kept giving and giving and giving. We made five different proposals. We did something completely unorthodox: We kept negotiating against ourselves. The union, basically, up until recently where there started to be some movement, made the same proposal dressed up a little differently over and over and over again and kept saying to all of you, ‘Oh, look, we made a wonderful proposal.’ It was the same thing, repackaged over and over again. My concern is, and maybe the mistake was we should have stopped negotiating against ourselves, because maybe the union’s theory was that the owners didn’t have the resolve. That would be inconsistent with the history of this ownership group, but then they didn’t have the resolve. And then ultimately they keep giving and giving and giving and giving and the union kept taking and taking. At some point you’ve given as much if not more than you should have and at some point you have to draw a line in the sand and at some point you have to say, this is the best that we can do. When we look at everything that it takes to run this league and run our clubs and give the players their fair share.”
How do you justify canceling 2 seasons in 8 years?
“First of all lockouts and strikes are something that has taken place in all sports. Baseball had eight consecutive work stoppages before they ushered in an era of labor peace. I believe the NBA’s had four work stoppages, football has. I’m not happy about this, but I’ve got to play the hand that I’m dealt. And my responsibility is the long-term health of this game and our franchises and our league and the fact of the matter is, I find it almost incomprehensible that the 82-game, save-the-season package wasn’t accepted. We’ve been through four executive directors in the last eight years, and any collective bargaining is impacted by time, relationships. It’s not just the people involved or even concept of trust, it’s about getting a working relationship, and we haven’t had the benefit of a long-term working relationship in our sport. That kind of instability isn’t good for collective bargaining, isn’t good for labor relations. Am I unhappy about the prospect? You bet I am. It absolutely is something that torments me. But by the same token I have a long-term responsibility to this game and the fans of this game to make sure we have a healthy product. Too many people are forgetting where we were 10 years ago and the fact is we didn’t have a healthy game and we had too many franchise that couldn’t continue. We did what we had to do in 2004 to make it right and we’re focused with our owners on what we need to make this game healthy for our fans and for our players, not incidentally. Our players have done very well under this collective bargaining agreement. There seems to be a tremendous amount of revisionist history about what happened eight years ago. We made what we believed was a fair agreement. The problem at the time was the union resisted a systemic change. That systemic change actually grew our game dramatically and average player salaries went from $1.4 million to $2.4 and even if you include the rollback they went from $1.7 million to $2.4 million. So the players have been, and I think it’s great, very well treated under this collective bargaining agreement. You look at our new arenas, you look at the way our teams travel, you look at the number of coaches, the number of trainers, the number of masseuses, the way we do training table, the hotels we stay at. This league has elevated itself to the highest level of first-class treatment, we believe of our players, we hope of our fans, that it’s ever seen. But there’s a cost of doing that and you need to have the right system to make it all work.”
On season length
“I’m not going to do it without credibility. When we get to the point that we can’t play a season with integrity, with a representative schedule, then we’ll be done. If you go back in history in ‘94 I think we played 48 games. I can’t imagine wanting to play fewer than that.”