BOSTON — On at least one occasion during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Gary Bettman was as incensed as every angry hockey fan venting on Twitter.
The NHL commissioner watched in horror when San Jose scored an overtime winner in the Western Conference Final immediately after a hand pass went uncalled by the officials on the ice. In this spring of controversial calls and missed calls, it was arguably the most galling mistake.
“What I thought was it would be good if I kept my head from exploding,” Bettman said of his reaction to that goal. “I was unhappy. We all were. If you ask the officials on the ice, they weren’t happy. If you asked [director of officiating] Stephen Walkom, he was unhappy. If you asked Colie Campbell and hockey operations, they were unhappy.
“I know [deputy commissioner Bill Daly] was unhappy. … It was unfortunate to say the least. It was clearly a missed call and it led to a goal. You don’t ever want to see a game decided like that.”
Bettman was particularly forthcoming on the hot-button issue of video replay during his annual state of the union address before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, acknowledging that changes are needed.
Those will be examined at meetings of the Competition Committee and General Managers in the coming month. It certainly sounds like they could be implemented before next season. There is probably no choice after the number of controversies this spring.
“The ability to review and parse plays down to the millisecond has become both a blessing and a curse,” said Bettman. “No one should doubt that we want to get it right. The fundamental question is the it; when to intervene and what are the instances that require doing so, and of course, how to do it without destroying the fabric and essential elements of our game.
“We want every call to be correct.”
Bettman and Daly spoke to reporters for more than 30 minutes on Monday night. Here are five things you should know that were covered.
Less video review is not the NHL’s answer.
There are some who believe the NHL should turn back the clock on review, choosing to live with a bit of human error rather than trying to perfect an imperfect game. Brad Marchand took that position during Stanley Cup media day: “Get rid of the video reviews, that’s the problem. When you start bringing in all the video reviews, the refs start getting crucified. They’re out there to do a job and you start taking away from them little by little then it’s going to escalate. Now they’re going to want video review for pucks hitting the net or hand passes, so how much are you going to take away from the refs, you know? You start adding video review and it’s going to just snowball.”
Bettman doesn’t share that view. He believes it’s too late.
“Whatever your view is of video replay, I think the way we’re doing it now, at least for what we’re doing, is working well and I don’t think you can go backwards anymore,” said Bettman. “I think that ship has sailed.”
Player and puck tracking is coming soon. Bettman said that the NHL is on course to roll out the new technology during the 2019-20 season.
The NHL isn’t ready to form its own women’s league.
Bettman says he’s still waiting for the “dust to settle” after the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, but is open to helping facilitate exhibitions and provide training opportunities for the roughly 200 players left without anywhere to play next season.
“Our clubs have been involved on a one-off basis helping with training facilities, ice, equipment,” he said. “We were involved in creating the tour a few months ago with the U.S. and Canadian women’s teams playing. We had a number of players involved in [the skills competition at] all-star. That’s something we’ll continue to do on a one-off basis because we’re very supportive of the women’s game.
“Whether or not it’s appropriate for us to get involved with the league — at least starting our own league — is something that not everybody agrees on from afar. It’s not anything we’ve focused on yet.”
The venture into China is temporarily on hold.
The NHL has decided against holding pre-season games in that country for a third straight September because of logistical issues created by the 70th anniversary of the rise of power of the communist party and Mao Zedong, according to Daly.
However, the league’s interests there haven’t dimmed. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
“We’re going to really ramp up our presence there, hopefully including over the summer with player visits and with league visits, players’ association visits and the like,” said Daly. “We’re going to continue to invest in grassroots and school programs so we can continue to fuel the growth of youth hockey in China. Hopefully we’ll be in a position to announce games for the following year much sooner than we’ve been able to do in the past, which should help with the promotion of those games. Again, I think we pass on the fall of 2019, but we expect to be there in the fall of 2020.”
There could be (labour) peace in our time.
The NHL and NHL Players’ Association have held a number of collective bargaining discussions, according to Daly, and plan to continue discussions through the summer.
The current CBA includes reopeners for September that could trigger a 2020 endpoint for the agreement. The sides are hoping to instead hammer out an extension and avoid a work stoppage for the first time since Bettman became commissioner in 1993.
“When you think about where the game is and the state of the business of the game and how it’s grown, there is a lot to be said for labor peace,” said Bettman.