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May 27, 2019
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Welcome, everyone, to Boston and the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. For those watching here on the NHL Network, SportsNet or TVA, welcome as well.
On this Memorial Day, as we come together to watch what we all believe is the greatest spectacle in sports, we also take a moment to thank and honor the men and women of the military who have given their lives in service to their countries. We remember and are grateful for their service.
Before Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and I take your questions, I want to spend a few moments recapping what has been an incredible season and Playoffs.
Obviously the Boston Bruins are back in the Final, this for the third time in the last nine years. Congratulations to Jeremy Jacobs, Charlie Jacobs, Cam Neely, Don Sweeney, Bruce Cassidy, Zdeno Chara, the rest of the players and the entire organization.
The St. Louis Blues return to the Final for the first time in 49 years against the same opponent they battled nearly five decades ago. Congratulations to Tom Stillman, Chris Zimmerman, Doug Armstrong, Craig Berube, captain Alex Pietrangelo, the rest of the players and the organization as well.
It is, to say the least, a tremendous accomplishment to make it this far. Now only four wins stand between these two franchises and the ultimate prize, the most iconic trophy in all of sports.
While there are things that are always debatable in our game, and we will certainly get into one of those issues, let's first focus on some indisputable facts that detail why the NHL is in the strongest position in our history.
As you all know, the Board of Governors formally approved our 32nd franchise in December. Seattle was the largest U.S. city without an NHL or NBA team. Obviously that won't be the case any more.
The ownership and management group in Seattle is making great progress with their arena, and frankly on all other fronts, including the development of the team name.
Having had the privilege of traveling to the Pacific Northwest multiple times over the last few months, I can tell you the people there can't wait for NHL hockey. It's easy to see why they're excited because they watched from afar and saw how remarkable this season was on ice.
There were a record number of goals scored during the regular season: 7,664. Teams combined to average six goals per game, our highest in more than a decade. It probably won't surprise you to know that our research shows that across the U.S. and Canada, more than 80% of our fans say they are pleased with that development and the state of our game.
The individual accomplishments this season were similarly striking. Nikita Kucherov had the highest individual point total in 23 years. For the first time in seven years, we had two 50-goal-scorers, Alex Ovechkin and Leon Draisaitl.
So much of the scoring increase was driven by our young players. Six of the top 10 point scorers were 25 years of age or younger. In total, 28% of the goals this year were scored by players aged 23 or under.
The increase in scoring is paired with the best pace of play in sports. We have the most and fastest action in the shortest period of time. Physicality is still an important part of our game. Our fans want to see it. The average number the hits per game were up year over year.
Competitive balance is at an all-time high. There were 138 multi-goal comebacks during the regular season, which was the most in our history. 10% of our games featured a tying goal in the last five minutes of the game, and 71% of the minutes played this year were tied or within one goal.
Now taking a wider view, for the seventh straight year, at least five teams made the Playoffs that missed out in the previous season. As you certainly know, the Blues were in last place in the entire league on January 3rd of this year. Now they're in the Stanley Cup Final, and that's nothing short of incredible.
Every single team, and as important, their fans, come into a season believing they can make the Playoffs. As we've seen, once you make the Playoffs, anything can happen.
Just so you know, I looked at many of the published pre-playoff predictions and brackets. Clearly most of you were amazed as I was to watch what unfolded over the last six weeks. But take comfort in the fact that you weren't alone. Only three out of the 1.42 million brackets submitted correctly predicted the first three rounds of our Bracket Challenge.
The drama of both the regular season and the Playoffs has translated into incredibly strong fan interest. During this regular season, Hockey Night in Canada, Wednesday night national games on SportsNet and CBC were up. On TVA during the regular season, ratings jumped 12%. On this side of the border, ratings on NBC and NBC Sports Net were also up year over year.
Cities across the league were more engaged than ever. Denver, Raleigh, Columbus, St. Louis and Dallas also had record ratings. Night in and night off during the Playoffs in market after market, NBC or NBC Sports Net was the highest rated network when the hometown team was playing.
Nationally, in the U.S. this is one of the most watched Stanley Cup Playoffs on record up to this point, which proves that viewers aren't just drawn to their local teams, our fans are interested in storylines, our stars and the quality of hockey being played.
That strength also extends to our digital properties and social platforms. Engagement with our playoff content across NHL.com, our app and YouTube are up nearly 60% year over year. Not all of that engagement was the Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner ice cream soup video, but that was a big hit.
What it really comes down to is we're engaging fans, new and old, young and old, on their terms. That's a big reason why the business is as strong as it's ever been with more than a dozen significant partnership renewals or new relationships.
Earlier this year, as I think you may all recall, our first three league-wide gaming partners joined us, MGM, FanDuel and William Hill. We announced today the multi-year extension of our long-standing partnership with Ticket Master. We'll be expanding our collaboration to use their new technology which they call Presence, which is their next generation ticketing and venue access control system.
While I don't think it's necessary to recap our special events like the Winter Classic in South Bend, many of you were there, you can attest to what a success it was.
I do want to point out we are very excited for what's to come next season. For the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl, ticket sales have been incredible. 80,000 tickets sold in record time. It was our second most successful presale after the 2014 Winter Classic at the Big House in Michigan.
We're equally excited about our other outdoor games. Air Force Academy, and the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic in Regina. Both are poised to be tremendous successes like all of our outdoor games.
Our games in Europe next year in Prague, Stockholm, Berlin and Lausanne are actually sold out, sold out in a matter of days, even hours in some cases.
Speaking of Europe, our first ever dedicated broadcast window for prime time European games, game of the week, drove higher viewership across the continent.
I also want to take a moment to point out some initiatives we undertook to bring people closer to the game here in North America:
Our Black History Month celebration included a mobile museum for the first time, honoring the contributions to the game of trailblazers like Hall of Famer Willie O'Ree, our partners at SportsNet brought Rogers Hometown Hockey to Enoch Cree nation, which is the first indigenous community to host this hockey festival.
That weekend the Aboriginal People's Television Network televised the first-ever National Hockey League game in the Plains Cree language. Simply stated, expanding and engaging our fan base in new and different ways, inclusiveness is a priority. That's what is also driving our significant investment in new technology.
Puck and player tracking was tested for the first time in the regular season in Las Vegas during the Consumer Electronics Show, and broadcast integration of that technology debuted at the All-Star Game in San Jose.
Tracking continues to be on course for a league-wide rollout during the 2020 season, and things are progressing as we expected in that regard.
As a result of our collaboration with SAP and Apple, our in-game coaching app was introduced, delivering real-time data right to the bench.
What we've shown over the years as a league is that we are flexible and are willing to constantly evolve and improve.
Along those lines of self-evaluation and adaptation, I know these Playoffs have featured some controversial moments. To be clear, we have the best officials in the world, and we all know that they have an extraordinarily difficult job. That is the very reason we were the first sports league to implement a centralized replay review process. It's the basis upon which other systems across the sports landscape were based.
We already have extensive video review. We review every goal and non-goal, over eight thousand a season. We review off-sides, goaltender interference. As we have learned, particularly with the coaches challenge, implementation of these extensions is not always easy and can prove to be challenging.
Clearly what we already do still may not be enough. The ability to review and parse plays down to the millisecond has become both a blessing and a curse. If we are to extend video replay, and we will be looking at that possibility, we must find the right balance when it comes to how much more to use and when to use it without affecting the flow, pace and excitement of our game.
Perhaps most important, we have to have a system that enables us to be consistent. This is the challenge, and it is the challenge we are focused on and we will meet.
We are constantly reviewing the league's replay and rules with our general managers. Replay was, again, a topic of discussion at our last general managers meeting in March, as it has been virtually at every meeting for the last two decades. It certainly will be discussed at the general managers meeting next month.
The process, as I think you all know, to make a rule change, including video replay, requires approval by the general managers, the Competition Committee, which includes the players, and ultimately the Board of Governors.
What I can say with absolute certainty is that everyone involved is going to take a hard look at this issue in the upcoming months.
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. Of course, how to do it without destroying the fabric and essential elements of our game.
We want every call to be correct. Everyone does. While we seek to minimize errors, the speed of our game, unprecedented in its history, and the advances in technology, also unprecedented, have conspired to make the world's best officials the focus of every call and non-call, which no one can do in real-time as well as they do.
This is not a complaint. This is not an excuse. We're not whining about it. It's simply a recognition of a challenge which we will address sensibly, appropriately and in the best interest of the game and those who love it.
Of course, in the 102 year history of our game, there have been some controversial calls. We also know that over the course of that century plus of hockey, ultimately the strongest and most committed teams overcome adversity.
Today and for the next two weeks, what matters most is what we will watch as these two conference champions face off. They ran the gauntlet of an intense regular season and Playoffs. Here we find them at the Stanley Cup Final. It takes a special group to finish the climb to the top of this mountain.
We're looking forward to a great conclusion to an extraordinary season. We wish both organizations good luck and hope that all of you will enjoy this ride.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and I will now be happy to take your questions.
Q. Gary, further to how you're going to approach whatever changes, if there are going to be changes, in terms of officiating or video review, is there a way you can describe what that's going to look like? Is it just going to be the GMs talking about it? Are you going to do something different to bring all of the stakeholders together to drill down on how to avoid at what happened at various points this spring?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I think what we have to do is make sure we have feedback from all the constituent groups, both in terms of soliciting ideas and ultimately whatever conclusion we reach to make sure everybody buys into it.
Ultimately, when you look at everything that we've done in video replay over the last couple of decades, it started with Colie Campbell and Hockey Operations. They understand the issues.
We all understand the issues at the league office. We know what works. We know what doesn't work. We understand the challenges in implementation. We're going to use that body of knowledge, share it with everybody, take as much feedback as we can from everyone.
Q. In terms of what kind of process that review might look like, how concerned are you about slowing down the game as part of that?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Very.
Q. Are there multiple different ways of doing it, whether it's Colie Campbell calling someone upstairs or the officials on the ice?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Let's back up a little bit. If you remember the implementation of goaltender interference, the first two-thirds of the first season, there were lots of complaints, not just this group, but from the clubs. The consensus overwhelmingly from the managers was that they wanted it called out of Toronto where you're seeing every game every night.
I alluded to it in my opening remarks: consistency is going to be as important as anything else. We understand from the track record what the issues are and where the problems can be in implementation.
Q. Can you bring us up to date on the communications you've had with the NHLPA regarding the opt out in September, the potential for an extension of the CBA, where you feel that is right now?
DEPUTY COMMISSIONER DALY: We've engaged in a number of discussions and meetings with the players association. They're ongoing. We both recognize what's at stake come September in terms of each of us having unilateral right to shorten the agreement, have it expire in 2020 as opposed to 2022. Nothing much to update other than the fact that we expect to continue to have discussions over the summer.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I also would like to add that when you think about where the game is and the state of the business of the game, how it's grown, there's a lot to be said for labor peace. That's something we're very focused on.
If you asked the players association, and Don is here, he could list 10 or 15 things he'd like to change in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. We could do the same thing. Ultimately this is going to come down to what's most important.
Q. As the league explores getting involved in women's hockey in a more formal way, have you had any discussions about helping facilitate exhibitions for the 200 women that are playing this year?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: At this point in time we're letting the dust settle in terms of what's ultimately going to happen with the remaining existing league, whether or not we've heard talk of the possibility of another league being formed.
Having said that, our clubs have been involved on a one-off basis helping with training facilities, ice, equipment. 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 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.
Q. Given that you acknowledge video reviews are a blessing and a curse, do you anticipate there will be any consideration to perhaps reducing what can be reviewed?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: That's a really good question. It's actually come up in prior general managers meetings.
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 any more. I think that ship has sailed.
Frankly, we want to get it right. But, again, defining what the 'it' is. How far do you roll back? What actually affects the ultimate result that's either called or not called, whether or not that resulted in a goal?
It's not as simple as saying, Just review everything. The essential excitement, the flow of our game would be inalterably interrupted if we reviewed everything. It's just not possible.
As a starting point, you can't make penalty calls that haven't been made two minutes earlier. Everybody has an opinion on this, and I respect that. We want lots of input. But it's not as easy as it looks.
Q. Bill, we've seen at least one significant injury these Playoffs with a player being pushed from behind into the boards. Could you envision a scenario this summer where that comes up in conversation or perhaps a rule change to strengthen the call or have it called more consistently?
DEPUTY COMMISSIONER DALY: It's certainly something that's been discussed before at the general manager level. George Parros and his team do a great job in trying to enforce the rules the way the general managers want them enforced.
It's an issue that comes up from time to time and is discussed and monitored. It happened a couple times during the Playoffs obviously. I expect it may be on the Competition Committee agenda, it may be on the general managers' agenda. There may be a change in enforcement.
I think the rules are in the book that would allow for proper calls to be made on the ice.
Q. What is the latest on the China games locations in the fall? Are there plans for expanding your office in Beijing?
DEPUTY COMMISSIONER DALY: I think where we are currently is that we are going to forego having pre-season games in China for next fall. That doesn't mean we're slowing down any kind of Chinese strategy. The reason for that has to do with the 70th anniversary of the rise to power of the communist party and Mao Zedong, our inability to book appropriate arrangements in arenas and cities because of that celebration at that time of the year.
We're going to use a phrase that I think the Devils use: We're going to double down on our efforts in China. We're going to really ramp up our presence there, hopefully including over this summer with player visits, with league visits, players association visits and the like.
We're going to continue to invest in grassroots, in school programs, so youth hockey, 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 have been able to do in the past, which should help with the promotion of those games.
Again, I think we passed on the fall of 2019, but we expect to be there in the fall of 2020.
Q. I understand the replay is a can of worms here, you're trying to get it right. Personally for you there's so much discussion with the missed hand pass in the Western Conference Finals. What did you think when you saw it? How would you like to see that handled in the future?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: What I thought was it would be good if I kept my head from exploding (laughter).
I was unhappy. We are all were. If you ask the officials on the ice, they were unhappy. If you ask Stephen Walkom, he was unhappy. If you ask Colie Campbell and Hockey Operations, they were unhappy. We were all unhappy.
Unfortunately, there have been occasions in our history where deciding plays were either off-sides, which is one of the reasons we have replay for that, and it was unfortunate, to say the least. It was clearly a missed call. It led to a goal.
Whether or not they had whistled it down, who would have ultimately won the game, we'll never know. But you don't ever want to see a game decided like that.
Whenever in the Playoffs we have an overtime game, and Colie Campbell and I frequently will chat before the overtime starts, the thing we say is, We just hope it's a clean goal.
Q. Is there something you would like to see moving forward?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Again, that goes into how you fix it. What if the hand pass happened a minute earlier? Four or five other people touch the puck, or it cleared the zone, or...
You can roll it back endlessly. Again, we're going to have to come up with something if we decide to extend replay that defines it in a way that we cannot ruin the game but get it right.
Q. You mentioned your commitment to trying to grow the game. Beijing Olympics (indiscernible) over the weekend was quoted from a Russian reporter saying he'd like to suggest to you sometime that September 2019 might be a deadline.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I think he said 2020.
Q. That would be a deadline.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: He hasn't communicated that to us.
Q. Where are you on Olympic participation?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Nowhere different than we've been. If the International Ice Hockey Federation chooses to set a deadline, they'll set a deadline and we'll deal with it as appropriate.
Q. If you think back, the last time the Stanley Cup had Boston in it, you were coming off the lockout. How much has the league progressed in your eyes? How great do you feel compared to then?
DEPUTY COMMISSIONER DALY: I think we've come a long way, as we have really over the course of decades. I think the league is in a bigger, better, stronger place. That starts with the product on the ice.
Players have never been better. Skill has been never more apparent. The balance in the league has never been better. Very compelling entertainment product, and that's what you want. We're really pleased with where we are.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: As I said in my opening remarks, we've never been stronger on or off the ice.
We don't like work stoppages. As I indicated before, labor peace is important. Every now and then I see some commentary that talks about, for example, the 'damage after the year off'. It's what I euphemistically call the year-long lockout.
People tend to forget that we came back after that year off to record attendance, ratings and reviews. That's a testament to the passion our fans have for the game, a testament to the strength of the game. It's not anything we take for granted.
The point that I'm making is, if you find yourself in a dispute, and then ultimately use that time to fix fundamental problems, which we believe we did, then you move forward stronger than you were. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.
Having said all that, we prefer labor peace at this point.
Q. With the recent video of Evgeny Kuznetsov, do you have any remarks if the NHL will have their own investigation?
DEPUTY COMMISSIONER DALY: We're not going to have any comments tonight. We became aware this afternoon. Jenny has already commented on it. The Capitols released a statement. We need a little more fact gathering to know what our next steps are.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Great to see all of you. Let's enjoy the Final. Thanks for being here.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports