NHL IN VANCOUVER: BETTMAN HAILED, BUT CHALLENGES AHEAD
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).