In 2007, when the NHL was having disputes with the NHL player's association, Gary Bettman had scheduled a meeting in New York city, and people thought there could potentially be another lockout. Well, a friend of mine (true story) spotted Bettman at a local Starbucks in a New Jersey suburb the morning of the meetings on his way to a tennis match. Since I figured I would find him at Starbucks again Saturday, I asked the NHL commissioner to sit down with me and discuss some topics.
Down Goes Avery: Thank you, Mr. Bettman, for taking the time to sit down with me.
Gary Bettman: No problem. It was either sitting with you or drinking my coffee alone.
DGA: So, Mr. Bettman, what can you tell me about the state of the NHL right now?
GB: Well, it's funny, we've gotten to the point where Americans have started to follow Pittsburgh, Washington and Chicago, they're all exciting young hockey teams, and we're excited about our on-ice product right now. It seems like the perfect time call up the boys at ESPN and put those guys on a network people have actually heard of.
DGA: So you're scrapping Versus?
GB: Absolutely. That whole blackout thing was a publicity stunt I got away with to lure in ESPN.
DGA: What do you have to say about Colin Campbell and the referees?
GB: We evaluate every single referee after every game, and as long as he tells me that the Penguins are his favorite team not named "Toronto Maple Leafs," he's fine. It's people who like the Flyers or Devils that I have a problem with.
DGA: Why is that, Mr. Bettman?
GB: Well, it's quite simple. Those teams have been ruining hockey for years. The Flyers, for example, have been known to have, how do you say this nicely, gritty players on their team. An example of this is Eric Lindros, and when Scott Stevens wrecked Lindros, it made it easy for me. Lindros got hurt and I could have punished Stevens...
DGA: Why didn't you?
GB: I was tanning in Florida that week. When I heard about the incident, I flew up to Philly, but it was too late.
DGA: So, what about the Devils?
GB: Well, the Devils always played a neutral zone trap, and what that means is...
DGA: Mr. Bettman, I know what the trap is.
GB: Oh, of course, you actually watch hockey, I forgot that there actually are Americans outside of D.C., Pittsburgh and Chicago that care. Basically, the Devils ruined hockey. So we placed a trapezoid behind the net, and if you think about it, that's perfect. The trapezoid. Devils play the trap, we put in a trapezoid (laughs). And some people asked me what would happen if the Devils signed Kovalchuk, and I chuckled.
DGA: You're not a Kovalchuk fan, are you?
GB: He's not good for hockey. He's ruining hockey. He's not the kind of player we love at the commissioner's office.
DGA: But why, Mr. Bettman? The Devils threw away their defensive system and signed a superstar?
GB: Yes, but they cheated.
DGA: You didn't really think that was illegal, do you?
GB: We didn't like the contract, so we went after Lou Lamoriello and we won. Contracts like that are ruining hockey.
DGA: Okay, anyway, changing subjects, the collective bargaining agreement. Where is that process right now?
GB: I don't know! I guess we'll talk about that maybe the day before we lock the league out again.
DGA: Hasn't the player's association called you yet?
GB: I blocked them from my phone. They are ruining hockey.
DGA: So hockey fans should expect another lockout?
GB: What else would you expect? We have no alternative. Through my experience, you can't just give in to the demands of the player's association. We're not trying to ruin hockey, after all.
DGA: Yes, but wouldn't it benefit everyone if there was hockey instead of a lockout?
GB: No, not really. The good teams will make money, and then once we come back, we can award a first overall pick.
DGA: Speaking of that first overall pick, what happened in 2005 after that lockout?
GB: Well, a lot of people think I fixed the draft to amuse myself. That is completely untrue.
DGA: So what actually happened?
GB: I fixed the draft. But I had some friends that were depressed about the financial situation in Pittsburgh. I thought to myself, why would I want a first overall pick, especially a player like Sidney Crosby, to go to California? So I called up Mario [Lemieux], and we worked out a deal that the Penguins would get Crosby if I gave them the first overall pick. Hey listen, Anaheim still got a good player, and they won a Stanley Cup before Pittsburgh did.
DGA: Moving on, what has been the most rewarding day for you as commissioner?
GB: The day Scott Stevens retired.
GB: I was scared to death of him. Every time I had to give him the Stanley Cup, I was scared he would level me. But trust me, if he did, I would have made sure he got suspended. It's guys like Stevens that were ruining hockey.
DGA: Why would it matter, if you were giving him the Cup, the season was over.
GB: I could have extended the series.
DGA: Good thing that didn't happen. So what can we expect from you in the future?
GB: Well, after the next lockout, we are planning to make some changes. The league is exciting right now, and we're going to make some changes, and while we're not sure what they will be, you can bet Lou Lamoriello isn't going to like them.
DGA: So, if any other commissioner were in control of the NHL, how many Cups do you think the Devils would have by now?
GB: Eight, nine, maybe more. But they're done. Lou might think that his tricks with Kovalchuk intimidate me, but hey, you don't mess with me. I'll burn you every time. Those guys were ruining hockey.
DGA: Mr. Bettman, I want to let you know that you have ruined my hockey life over the past seven years or so, and I wish you the worst in the future.
GB: Thank you. It really moves me when fans can appriciate my work.
* The commissioner told me that if I published this interview, I would be fined $3 million plus a first round draft pick. Since I didn't know what that means since that clearly has never happened to a team I follow, I shrugged my shoulder and said "fine."