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Tuesday, May 27

Updated: June 7, 7:45 PM ET

Bettman says there's still work to be done

Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The NHL's much-publicized attempt to create more offensive flow and eliminate the clutching and grabbing that slow its stars was a success, commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday.

But, at a Stanley Cup finals news conference dominated by questions about whether the NHL is doing enough to make the sport more exciting and more attractive to TV viewers, Bettman said it remains a work in progress.

Bettman and NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell said changing the habits of NHL coaches and officials can't be accomplished in a single season.

"There was a big difference in the game," Campbell said. "But it's going to take a while to change the coaches and officials. It is better and it will continue to get better."

The NHL began the season by emphasizing its officials would cut down on clutching and grabbing in the neutral zone and prevent players from impeding forwards trying to get at the puck in the offensive zone.

Many NHL players praised the enforcement at the start of the season but, as coaches adjusted and some officials seemed to go back to calling games as they did in the past, the obstruction crackdown appeared to relax.

"This is not an easy thing to re-teach," Campbell said.

Penguins owner-player Mario Lemieux was among those most critical of the perceived abandonment of the crackdown, saying that NHL games by late November were virtually the same as they were in the past.

Bettman and Campbell disputed that notion, pointing to statistics that showed a moderate improvement in goal scoring during the 2002-03 season.

"Sometimes the first step is to stop a backward trend," Bettman said. "The effort was worthwhile and it will be sustained."

On other issues, Bettman said:

-- There has been no movement by the NHL Players' Association to begin negotiations on a new labor contract to replace that which expires in September 2004. Union chief Bob Goodenow already has warned some players the labor impasse could be a long one, perhaps longer than a full season.

Goodenow has indicated the union is not willing to accept a hard salary cap that would control salaries. Bettman emphasized again Tuesday that owners need a way to contain salaries that now cost owners 75 percent of their revenue.

"We all know the problems," Bettman said. "And I know how to fix them."

-- The NHL has not conceded its next U.S. TV contract will be worth less than the $600 million over five years that ABC and ESPN currently are paying.

"We remain attractive programming to ESPN and ABC," he said.

ESPN is carrying the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals and ABC will carry the rest.

-- The NHL will not consider whether to free up its players for the 2006 Olympics in Italy until the 2004 labor contract is settled.

-- Unless the players' union signs off in the near future, the planned Nov. 22 outdoor game in Edmonton may not take place.




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