NEWARK, N.J. -- There was a time at these yearly state of the NHL addresses prior to the Stanley Cup final when commissioner Gary Bettman would get a little irked over the topic of Winnipeg. Not anymore.
"Happy anniversary, Winnipeg," chimed Bettman as he interrupted a question from the Free Press on Wednesday just over an hour prior to Game 1. Later, he offered a hand to a reporter and pronounced: "What a great story Winnipeg has been. There are no negatives to it at all."
Bettman's address was well-attended by media from all across the hockey landscape as well as four gentlemen from the NHLPA standing at the back of the room including the union's head Donald Fehr.
Bettman took questions on various league topics including the collective bargaining agreement and the Phoenix Coyotes.
The CBA expires on Sept. 15 and while Bettman said Wednesday he and Fehr have agreed to begin talks and are working on a schedule, the growing sentiment around the league is a protracted negotiation including a work stoppage is coming hockey's way.
"I don't understand both the speculation and the degree of negativity that it connotes considering we, meaning the league and the players' association, have yet to have a substantive discussion on what we may each be looking for in collective bargaining,'' said Bettman.
"It is nothing more than speculation at this point. There can't be any substance to it because there haven't been any substantive conversations.''
Fehr was asked how he expects negotiations to go but wouldn't share his thoughts.
"I have some ideas as to how it's going to go but I have learned that making predictions in this business is a bit of a foolish enterprise,'' said Fehr. "Too many things can happen that can cause you to change course.''
Bettman announced the NHL is enjoying a record year with revenues of $3.3 billion, as well as having unprecedented relevance in the U.S. due to its TV deal with NBC Sports, which has shown every NHL playoff game.
Despite this, the league and the players feel it's necessary to crack open the deal and make changes.
"A little bit of history for people: We originally agreed, coming out of the work stoppage, this would be a six-year deal. The players' association at the time was concerned about how they would like the system. So we agreed if they wanted to shorten it to four years, they could. We also agreed that if they liked the system, they could extend it a year," said Bettman. "There are probably a host of things, from a day-to-day standpoint at least, that both we and the players' association need to focus on. Seven years is a long time for a deal to be in place."
Fehr says the players want a deal to happen with as little pain as possible.
"All I can say is, I certainly hope it does,'' said Fehr.
Bettman said potential Coyotes owner Greg Jamison continues to work on a deal but needs to finalize an arena-management deal with the City of Glendale and secure the financing to buy the team.
"I spoke to Greg Jamison early today. He continues to do the two things he needs to do to secure the future of the Coyotes where they are, in Arizona." Bettman wouldn't say if the NHL will take part in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
"I think there are a whole host of issues that relate to the competitiveness of our season and what the Olympic participation might do to that," he said. "The benefits from the Olympics have to be evaluated as we balance it against the impact that it has. I think in that regard we have to take into account where the next two Winter Olympics are going to be."
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