NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will be in Wild owner Craig Leipold’s center-ice suite tonight to take in the Wild vs. Calgary Flames game.
But not too close.
Leipold reminded Bettman that nobody, even the leader of the NHL, can sit in the seat next to the jumpy owner during games. So Bettman will keep his distance.
Bettman did take a car ride with Leipold today thought to the Twins’ Target Field and the Gophers’ TCF Bank Stadium to tour the facilities for a possible outdoor game. He called both facilities “very, very attractive.”
The Wild didn’t take part in a stadium-series game this season (the league had four on top of the Winter Classic and Heritage Classic) in part because Leipold has been holding out for the Winter Classic. After the 2015 Winter Classic was awarded to the Washington Capitals, Leipold changed his tune and informed the NHL he would take a stadium-series game if it helps the Wild’s cause to get the NHL’s actual Winter Classic.
“Craig has been discussing with me the possibility of playing a stadium game for a long time and we discussed it again today,” Bettman said late this afternoon. “It’s something we know the club wants, that Craig wants and the fans want, and we’ll be responsive. I can’t give you a date or a venue yet. … The fans, the hockey environment, the weather, this is the State of Hockey after all … “We’re very focused on Minnesota.”
Bettman indicated the Wild would get a stadium-series game before a Winter Classic because “It’s easier to focus on because we have more opportunity to satisfy the demands.”
“I’m not making any promises” as to if the Wild will get one next season.
There has been a lot of chatter that one reason the Wild hasn’t gotten the Winter Classic is because NBC hasn’t felt the Wild can draw a national audience. Bettman didn’t confirm that, but when I asked if NBC and HBO have a say in the venues and opponents, Bettman said, “We consult with them in terms of getting their input as to what makes sense from a television standpoint.”
The NHL has indicated the league will have fewer outdoor games next season. There has been much debate that there have been too many in a short amount of time and it takes the uniqueness away.
“Despite all of the debate about what the right number is, you can’t really overdo these,” said Bettman, pointing out the six games (including Winter Classic and Heritage Classic) drew 375,000 fans.
“It has become such a big fan favorite event, such an in-market phenomena,” said, Bettman, although he agree you “don’t want to do too many” because it should be a national television attraction and “it pushed our organization to the limits.”
“We’re specializing in staff red-eyes,” he joked.
--On expansion: “There’s a lot of interest. We’re hearing from multiple groups in Seattle, … in Vegas, in Kansas City, in Quebec City. We haven’t decided to engage in a formal expansion process, but as we always do, we listen to expressions of interest. … There may be good reasons to expand, there may be not. It’s not something we’ve seriously considered yet.”
(Russo note: Expansion’s coming. The league is perfectly set up for 32. Seattle will obviously be one, and even though people always seems to poo-poo Vegas, my sources tell me this is a legit option as MGM Resorts builds an arena behind New York-New York).
--On the state of the league: “Look at the last year, we now have long-term labor peace, we have two very significant long-term major media contracts for national rights in Canada and the U.S., we sold three franchises over the summer. We’re probably the most stable and in the best position we’ve ever been in.”
--on potential rule changes, like 3-point games in the standings, etc. He said the league’s playing at 95 percent capacity in the regular season, over 100% in the playoffs, “revenues have never been higher, TV ratings have never been higher, the game on the ice has never been better followed and received and praised. … I don’t think the game’s in need of any urgent changes.”
-- On the future of the Olympics, “We went to Sochi to have a nice tournament and we did. Nobody has given any serious discussion or thought as to what we do next.”
Owners are starting to scoff at going to the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, in large part to the several injuries that took place in Sochi, the 14-hour time difference, the stopping of the momentum of the NHL season, etc. In fact, the Wild was one a number of teams that voted against going to Sochi.
“It’s not all good and it’s not all bad,” Bettman said. “It’s a balancing act and some of that balance gets affected by where the Olympics are. When we were in Vancouver and Salt Lake City, it was easy to tip the scales. When you’re in other places, not so easy.
Bettman said Russia was easy because of the hockey tradition there. He noted that’s not the same for Korea, but he added, “Nobody, nobody has begun the process of evaluating what comes next. We’re focused on our season.”
--Bettman talked about how the NHL is the leader in video review and how the other league comes to them to see how they do it. In fact, it’s been reported that the NFL wants to have a centralized video review system like the NHL.
But Bettman said they can’t review everything and coach’s challenges are problematic because “continuous play means we can’t review everything because we may find ourselves unwinding the clock. We don’t want to do anything that we can’t get right with certainty.”
He did say the NHL will “continue to study what applications we can put technology to use to help get more decisions right,” like on my gripe that goalie interference should be reviewed (for example, referee Brad Meier wiping out Keith Ballard’s goal in Vancouver on Friday even though Erik Haula didn’t touch Eddie Lack; supervisor Mick McGeough acknowledged to me that Meier erred).
“But it’s the reason our officials have the toughest job, this game is fast and it’s continuous and you don’t want to disrupt the game,” Bettman said of too many reviews and thought of coach challenges.
But Bettman said the NHL continues to try to minimize the number of referee and linesman mistakes by “coaching and critiquing and holding officials accountable.”