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Thursday, March 18, 2004
Commissioner optimistic about negotiations

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- With talk of a possible lockout that could substantially curtail or even cancel next season, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman believes a work stoppage can be avoided.

Bettman, speaking with reporters before the Rangers played the Capitals on Thursday, said the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement Sept. 15 gives the league and union an opportunity to fix the sport's problems.

"I view September of 2004 as an opportunity to go forward," Bettman said. "I'm optimistic. At the right time, the union will want to reason together with us."

Bettman said the league already has scheduled meetings with the NHL Players Association in April and May in an attempt to head off a possible lockout. He wants "a rational and fair relationship between revenues and expenses."

While repeatedly saying he wanted a deal with the union that reduced costs for teams, he declined to be more specific. He also ruled out any possible contraction.

"The word contraction does not exist in my or the NHL's vocabulary," he said. "Any suggestion that the Capitals or any franchise is either moving or contracting is nothing more than unsubstantiated and irresponsible rumor mongering."

On other topics:

  • Bettman said Todd Bertuzzi's attack on the Colorado Avalanche's Steve Moore last week was disturbing but shouldn't cause a rush to radically crack down on brawls.

    "This wasn't a fight. This was an incident that crossed the line, and it was dealt with appropriately. Let's not overgeneralize. It was dealt with in a very strict and harsh way."

  • Bettman thinks the league will be able to replace its expiring television contract with ABC and ESPN with a favorable deal.

  • He also planned to meet with Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, whom he suspended for a week and fined $100,000 for scuffling with a disgruntled fan. The commissioner praised Leonsis, saying: "He has been a great owner for this franchise."

  • In recent weeks, the Capitals and Rangers made multiple trades in an attempt to aggressively shed payroll, moves that Bettman applauded.

    "With the uncertainty of next year, I think it was smart," he said.