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NHL IN VANCOUVER: BETTMAN HAILED, BUT CHALLENGES AHEAD
Published January 16, 1998
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is profiled by Helene Elliott in the L.A. TIMES. The NHL "differs greatly from the enterprise Bettman inherited" in '93 and the fact that Bettman "has wrought so many changes is a tribute to his business acumen." Elliott: "But growth and change have spawned new problems for a league that still lacks the wide acceptance of baseball, basketball and football." Bettman: "We've been able to do things to, hopefully, create more interest in the game, and we're trying to eliminate distractions (such as) work stoppages, franchises in trouble." Bettman said that he "isn't concerned" with the current decline in attendance, but next season will start a week to 10 days later "to capitalize on the NHL's pattern of drawing better later in the season" (L.A. TIMES, 1/16). LEGAL THREAT? With the NHL's All-Star Weekend starting today, "it seems the league is far stronger than it was before Bettman arrived" in '93, according Iain MacIntyre of the VANCOUVER SUN. But "how Bettman and his office handle the current problems" -- "especially" fallout from former NHLPA Exec Dir Alan Eagleson's admission of guilt on fraud and theft charges and the decrease in scoring this year -- "will be crucial in determining if his next five years are as good as first five." Bettman, on the Eagleson affair: "The sooner we can get it behind us, the better. Hopefully the sentencing represents the closure of the chapter." But MacIntyre wrote that Eagleson's admission of guilt "has only strengthened the resolve of former players who feel they were cheated." One suit claims the league and union "colluded to hold down player salaries" between '75 and '93. Twenty-one clubs are named as defendants "and the suit has the potential to cost the NHL millions, if not hundreds of millions." Bettman: "From a civil standpoint, as a league we're going to have to deal with it. ... But our counsel has looked at it and advised me there should be nothing to it." Bettman added that he is not "overly concerned" about the drop in scoring, which is down 9% from '96 (SUN, 1/14). TEAMS: The league has altered its All-Star format to feature North America vs. the World teams, but in S.F., Ross McKeon wrote that five teams will have no player reps at the game, including the Sharks. McKeon: "Considering the NHL ranks last in popularity and exposure in a four-horse pro sports race, it's not a good idea to snub markets." NHL VP/ Communications Arthur Pincus: "It was apparent with the new format it would be virtually impossible to have every team represented" (Ross McKeon, S.F. EXAMINER, 1/14). WEEKEND UPDATE: This evening, Canada will play the U.S. in an exhibition women's game (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 1/16). ...Willie O'Ree, the first black player in the NHL, will be honored during the weekend (VANCOUVER SUN, 1/16)....USA TODAY features a 12-page supplement on the All-Star Weekend. Sponsors include Philips Electronics' Norelco, Pinnacle, IBM, Chrysler's The New Dodge and Sheraton (THE DAILY).