'Time to reevaluate'
Bettman places priority on making arenas saferPosted: Thursday June 06, 2002 7:23 PM
A full plan will be detailed at a June 20 Board of Governors meeting, but commissioner Gary Bettman declined Thursday to discuss specifics -- such as whether arenas must install safety netting like that used in European arenas -- until he receives a report being prepared by engineers, architects and safety inspectors.
Although numerous fans have been struck by flying or ricocheting pucks at NHL games, Brittanie Cecil is believed to be the only fan to die. She was hit by a deflected slap shot on March 16 and died two days later after an injury to an artery in her neck caused internal bleeding.
Bettman said there hasn't been a day since the accident that he hasn't thought of her.
"Our buildings are safe, but when we've had a tragedy like we had, it's time to reevaluate," Bettman said. "I believe at the end of this process, we'll do the right thing. ... We're doing a thorough analysis of what must be done to improve safety."
Bettman also said the NHL is also closely monitoring the ownership situation in Buffalo because of the economic crisis facing owner John J. Rigas and his family.
Grand juries in two states are investigating financial transactions between Rigas-founded Adelphia Communications, the nation's sixth-largest cable TV company, and the Rigas family. Among the questions is whether Rigas used Adelphia funds to purchase the NHL team without the approval of Adelphia stockholders.
"There have been a whole lot of allegations, and if and when it is time for us to get involved, we will," Bettman said. "I've talked to John Rigas and we're in constant touch with management, and we're committed to a franchise in Buffalo. We're not even discussing moving the franchise."
Bettman spent much of his annual Stanley Cup finals news conference pushing the NHL Players Association to start negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement before the current deal expires Sept. 15, 2004.
Bettman said the present agreement - and, he suggested, the willingness of some owners to spend beyond their means for players - has caused salaries to increase much faster than revenues, despite a healthy growth in league-wide income.
"We're ready to start working at any place, on any day on a new collective bargaining agreement," Bettman said. "But it's clear to everyone that no matter how much we increase exposure for the league and grow revenues, the existing economic system needs to be changed -- and the sooner the better.
"This can't continue indefinitely, and 2004 is our chance to fix it."
Until there is a new collective bargaining agreement, the NHL won't discuss whether to send players to the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.
Hockey enjoyed some of its highest U.S. and Canadian TV ratings during the February games in Salt Lake City.
"Going to Italy in 2006 adds a whole different set of circumstances; the [NHL season] break would be longer, and the wear and tear on the players would be greater and there are travel issues," Bettman said. "But we're not in a position to address 2006 until we address 2004."
If a labor deal can be struck before then, he said, "That will let us look at this [the 2006 Olympics] in a whole different light."
On other issues, Bettman said:
"A lot of people were writing the Hurricanes off before the series started," he said. "I think this is very compelling story."