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SBD/Issue 41/Leagues & Governing Bodies
Bettman Says NHL Not Even Considering Contraction Plan
Published November 8, 2001
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "says contraction is not an option" for the league, according to David Shoalts of the Toronto GLOBE & MAIL. Bettman: "It's not on our radar screen. It's not anything we are considering. ... (Contraction) is not something I would be inclined to support or focus on because I believe, long term, that all 30 of our teams are in good places and can be supported and be successful"
(Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 11/8). Also in Toronto, Eric Duhatschek wonders, "Does contraction make any sense for the NHL? Even in an era of rising salaries and falling dollars, contraction seems unlikely to provide any long-term solutions for what ails the game. To begin with, the costs of contraction would be significant. ... Second, the purpose of expanding in the first place was to extend the NHL's 'footprint' into every corner of North America" (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 11/8).
WILL THEY AT LEAST THINK ABOUT IT? But also in Toronto, Damien Cox writes that as MLB's contraction plan "plays itself out, it might be Gary Bettman's NHL that will find the most interest in all of this. The NHL just has to wait until 2004 to start using contraction as a club with which to beat the players union into submission. Or does it?" There are "as many as a dozen" teams that are "either in trouble or in need of some very positive developments to ensure their long-term survival." Among U.S.-based teams, the Mighty Ducks, Panthers, Coyotes, Penguins and Lightning are "in the most dire straits," as the Coyotes and Penguins are in "desperate need of new arenas," and the Ducks, Panthers and Lightning have "major attendance problems that are creating enormous annual financial losses." As for Canadian teams, "there is intense concern" for both the Oilers and Flames. Cox adds the NHL "can sit back and watch baseball use contraction as a negotiation weapon" with its players' union, but, "to make the kind of changes Bettman has repeatedly promised will come in 2004, it's reasonable to suggest the league needs to shock the union." More Cox: "Quite clearly, hockey would be better off with 26 teams, or even 24," (TORONTO STAR, 11/8). In Buffalo, Bob Dicesare added, "It can't be long before the NHL ponders the option [of contraction]." While there "may be teams at the moment worse off financially than the Sabres, the possibility that this franchise might be inclined to cease operations if the opportunity arises can't be dismissed. ... If I'm the Rigas family, I'm already rounding up support among small- and mid-market teams to overhaul the [CBA]" (BUFF. NEWS, 11/7).