The Sports Daily > The 6th Sens
Gary Bettman Speaks – Skate Gate, Stable Ownership, CTC

One day after Bryan Murray and Eugene Melnyk were spotted entering the NHL’s head offices in New York City, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman conveniently made an appearance on TSN 1200’s ‘The Drive’ to talk about the health of the league and not the circumstances pertaining to why Melnyk and Murray met with him yesterday.

Under normal circumstances, I would have transcribed the entire interview, but luckily, the Ottawa Citizen’s James Gordon beat me to it. Rather than lift all of the transcribed text to supplement this piece, go read it in its entirety yourself. Go read it. Like now!

You can also listen to it by accessing the interview here or by streaming the embedded audio towards the bottom of this post.

The beginning of the interview proceeded in Gary Bettman's infamous style. When asked to comment directly on what yesterday’s meeting between the league and Ottawa’s front office pertained to, the Commissioner skirted the question.

 “I don’t make it a practice of disclosing what took place in a meeting that I have with a club or club ownership and since anybody who has written wasn’t at the meeting and doesn’t know what transpired, it’s pure speculation – and by the way, I did see an article that said Don Fehr was at that meeting and he wasn’t. Interestingly enough, and I guess this is what happens when the media stakes out your offices, and they did that to see Tortorella, Don Fehr was in my office also. All the meetings I had yesterday were unrelated, so to the extent that people are suggesting things did or didn’t happen, they didn’t know, and as I said, when I’m conducting league business and having business meetings, I don’t make it a practice of telling the world what I’m doing on a moment-by-moment basis.”

Not surprisingly, he used the Fehr sighting and non-presence to essentially cast doubt on all of yesterday’s speculation for why the parties met. Even though a number of outlets reported that Fehr actually was not present at the meetings.

Eventually, it would be confirmed during tonight’s Insider Trading on TSN broadcast by Bob McKenzie that Melnyk did, in fact, present a detailed medical report on the Karlsson/Cooke incident yesterday afternoon.

Although nothing reportedly will come of Melnyk’s finding(s), it was  Bettman’s answers on the health of the game that circled back to the Ottawa Senators’ financial situation that raised some eyebrows.

“It’s always important that a sports league has the right economic system so that teams can be competitive, that they can be economically stable so that we can have franchises in a variety of markets that are not only just big markets, so Ottawa can be competitive and be in this league, which is important to us.”

Bettman would then comment on the strength of Ottawa’s ownership situation, in light of the organization claiming that the hockey team has lost $110 million over the past ten years.

“We think it’s important to have a franchise in the nation’s capital and therefore we have to make sure that there’s good strong ownership, which there is, and that there’s a system that makes sense.”

Ottawa has such strong ownership that Bettman felt compelled to mention that “Ottawa is blessed with that fact that Eugene Melnyk owns the building that was privately built.”

It’s odd. Bettman’s conveying the message that Ottawa’s financially stable on one hand, but on the other, he’s also telling us that we should be counting our blessings that Melnyk owns the building. An arena that I presume, like Capital Tickets, generates enough revenues to help offset whatever losses the Senators hockey club are reporting.

On one hand, Bettman is painting a rosy picture of Ottawa’s situation, meanwhile Melnyk has been lobbying Ottawa City Council for favours because of the financial hardships that the Ottawa Senators hockey club is facing.

So which is it?

Without looking at the books, it’s hard to know.

NHL financials are well guarded and third party evaluations like the ones Forbes does annually are often panned in NHL circles. Moreover, it’s usually in the team’s or owner’s best interests to keep the books closed, especially since its business often involves obscuring its financial details when appealing to the various levels of government for a favour – like Melnyk’s appeals to Ottawa City Council not to sole source the Ottawa Casino bid – or help their subsidize their business and help the team’s bottom line.

Melnyk wouldn’t be the first sports franchise owner to do it and Neil deMause penned an entire book on the matter entitled ‘Field of Schemes.

You certainly can’t blame Senators fans for being sensitive when it comes to money.

We’re essentially half-way through the season and we’re already sick of hearing that Ottawa’s a budget team that is limited by its strict adherence to ownership’s self-imposed cap.

Making matters worse, we’re coming off of a work stoppage and the sport is still growing. Furthermore, it’s difficult not to look at the additional revenue that will be generated by the league’s Canadian national broadcast rights agreement with Rogers and Ottawa’s own regional broadcast rights for television and radio should help the Senators line their pockets further. Hell, ownership has even gone on record saying that this franchise is making more revenue off of ticket sales than it has in the past.

So we’re left with a situation in which the truth is muddied and the owner is exhausting the equity that he built up with this fan base when he bought the team. For many, it’s already gone.

What once seemed like a stable franchise now sends out mixed messages and signals more often than Paul MacLean juggles his lines. That’s just the reality of the situation and Melnyk has no one to blame for it but himself.

Darren Dreger Talks About Melnyk’s Cooke/Karlsson Report on TSN 1050’s ‘The Drive’

Darren Dreger appeared on Toronto’s TSN 1050’s ‘The Drive’ and as the headline states, he talked about Melnyk’s report that he delivered to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Here is a transcript of what was said:

On what he makes of news that Melnyk and Murray appeared at the NHL’s head offices yesterday…

Dreger: “Bizarre. Anybody who knows Eugene Melnyk, or at least his history, isn’t surprised. I’m sure that there are some around the Ottawa Senators (organization) who are going, ‘Really? We’re investing resource dollars into this when we could be, perhaps, beefing up our budget to add a player or two?’ I mean, that’s being a little sensationalistic in terms of the money that is being spent, but who among us actually believes that there’s a case to be made here? And that’s the bigger issue. There were some who thought that the Players Association, because Don Fehr stopped at the NHL head offices yesterday to pay a visit to Gary Bettman who was part of that group in that discussion, and (Fehr) was not. You know, (Melnyk’s) an owner in the National Hockey League and Gary Bettman works for Eugene Melnyk to some degree; if he wants an audience and wants to plead his case in this regard, then he is free to do that, but I doubt very much it will get anywhere.”

On whether anyone has gone on the record over their meeting yesterday…

Dreger: “No. No. No. Skate Gate.”

On whether this will get advanced…

Dreger: “(Laughter) Well, it is in the mind of Eugene Melnyk. But again, what’s the end conclusion? Is he going to find or create the forensic evidence to prove (that Matt Cooke hurt Erik Karlsson intentionally)?”

On whether he’s asking the NHL to conduct further investigation, the NHL has to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’…

Dreger: “Well, there wasn’t an answer provided as bluntly as that yesterday.”

Dave Naylor: “I’m guessing the NHL would just like this whole thing to go away like everybody else. (Laughter)”

Dreger: “For sure.”