Bettman On 'Joe And Evan': NHL Has Most Competitive Balance In Sports

Hockey Commissioner Also Discusses Nassau Coliseum And David Stern

Joe & Evan
January 03, 2020 - 5:56 pm

Gary Bettman has been running the NHL since Feb. 1, 1993, making him the longest tenured commissioner in professional American sports. In fact, Bettman has held his position with the NHL longer than Roger Goodell in the NFL, the NBA’s Adam Silver and baseball’s Rob Manfred have commissioned their sports combined.

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Joining WFAN’s afternoon drive show with Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts, the 67-year old Bettman didn’t sound like he was ready to retire from the NHL any time soon.

“The fact is I love what I’m doing, the league is in a good place, there’s a lot more that we can do and I’ve got a great organization here. The teams have been terrific, the game’s never been better, so we continue on because it’s working for all of us,” Bettman told Benigno and Roberts.

Prior to joining the NHL, Bettman worked with the NBA and their commissioner at the time, David Stern who passed away Jan 1. 2020.

“David was terrific, he was really, really, really smart. He had boundless energy, he was creative, a great thinker and he was really good at bringing the best out of people,” Bettman said on WFAN.

“He had a vision as to what the NBA could be,” the NHL commissioner added about the late David Stern. “He understood there were challenges that had to be met, but his legal training and discipline enabled him to meet every challenge and every opportunity head on and I couldn’t even quantify how much I learned from him about how to operate in this environment and how to run a sports league.”

Roberts asked Bettman what the biggest trait he took away from his 12 years working with Stern and the NBA was.

“David was as hard, if not the hardest worker I’ve ever known,” Bettman said. “You’ve got to know your stuff, you’ve got to understand the issues you’re dealing with, you’ve got to do your homework and then you have to make decisions for the right reasons, not because they play well in the press…you got to do the right things for the right reasons.”

Then-NBA Commissioner David Stern speaks at a news conference on Oct. 10, 2013, in Manila, Philippines.
Mike Young/Getty Images

During his time as NHL commissioner, Bettman has overseen three lockouts, including the 2004-05 season which was canceled in full. While many fans would be upset over the missed season, Benigno wanted to thank Bettman for forcing a hard salary cap on the New York Rangers.

“The lockout season and forcing the hard salary cap on the Rangers turned them around from a team that went almost 10-years without making the playoffs, to a consistent playoff team, to a team that was for a while making deep runs in the playoffs, so I want to thank you for that,” Benigno complimented the NHL commissioner.

Putting the Rangers aside, Bettman explained why it was important for the NHL to work under a hard cap.

“The goal of teams, because of the disparity in payrolls was to neutralize skill, not emphasize skill,” Bettman said regarding NHL franchises operating without a hard cap. “Now all teams can afford to be competitive, and as a result we have the most competitive balance not just in our history, but in all sports.”

“Anything can happen in the playoffs and we see that, the regular season goes down to the wire and I think it was a year ago today, give or take a day, the St. Louis Blues had the worst record in the NHL, they make the playoffs and they win the cup and that’s what we want to deliver to the fans night in and night out, an entertaining, exciting, unpredictable game played at an incredible pace by I think the most gifted athletes in the world,” the commissioner added.

As an Islanders fan, Roberts wanted to express his desire to see the New York hockey team play all of their postseason games at Nassau Coliseum instead of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Roberts noted that as a season ticket holder of the Brooklyn Nets, he spends plenty of time at the Barclays Center, but speaking on behalf of Islanders' fans, the team has a better home-ice advantage at the Coliseum.

“Nassau Coliseum is not a major league facility and it shouldn’t take you an hour to go to the bathroom and those are all legitimate concerns and if the Islanders continue to build the way they have and go into the second, third and even the Stanley Cup Final we’re going to have to figure out the logistics of what makes sense because it’s difficult to host your major events, as the playoffs are for us, in a non-major league facility,” said Bettman.

While it seems unlikely the team will play all of their playoff games at the Coliseum if they make a deep postseason run, Bettman did add that on the bright side, the Belmont Arena is going to be an absolute treat for Islanders fans. The future home of the Islanders is expected to be complete sometime in 2021.

Click the audio player above to hear Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts with Giants general manager Dave Gettleman.