LAS VEGAS — After waiting 16 years to make an appearance at the NHLPA’s player meetings, Gary Bettman needed a little extra time to get his point across.
The NHL commissioner spoke for almost two hours on Saturday morning — more than double the time he was originally allotted. He began with an address to the roughly 110 players in attendance and faced questions on a range of topics. Everyone seemed satisfied after Bettman’s first-ever visit to these meetings.
“It was a big move on his part to come in here,” said Detroit Red Wings defenceman Chris Chelios. “It was a respectful meeting. We weren’t going to do anything that was unprofessional. It took a lot for him to go out of his way and address the players. I just wish we had 700 guys in here to listen to him.”
The commissioner spoke about the business of the sport and fielded questions from guys like Chelios, Robyn Regehr, Georges Laraques, Manny Malhotra and Kevin Weekes.
There was a time during Bettman’s reign when a meeting like this would never have happened. However, NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly thinks it’s important to keep an open dialogue with the league.
“In our business we have to strike the balance between working together in a professional, constructive manner and digging in to represent our respective sides,” said Kelly. “My view is that we should be talking to each other, we should be listening to each other. I thought it was important for Gary to come to the players meetings to share with the players whatever he wished to share with them and also to respond to tough questions.”
An interesting issue for the sides to work out moving forward is the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Bettman is in favour of adopting the World Anti-Doping Agency’s long list of banned substances and wants to see testing conducted all year.
The players discussed the issue on Saturday and seem to be split on what to do.
While none of them think there is a problem in the sport, there are a lot of things to consider before adopting a new policy.
“In the drug testing business, there are false positive (tests),” said Kelly. “We don’t want guy’s reputations or careers to be ruined by those instances.”
Another issue that came up with Bettman is the league’s U.S. television contracts. Many players would prefer the league to strike a deal with ESPN, but the commissioner remains committed to Versus and NBC.