Bettman loves technology in hockey, still lukewarm on Olympics
'I'm not a fan of disrupting our season,' commissioner says of league's participation
Gary Bettman feels the NHL has never been healthier or stronger, but the commissioner thinks the league needs to continue to evolve to keep up with young fans.
Bettman said a lot has changed since he took over the role 26 years ago.
"When I started on this journey in 1993, no team had a website, the iPhone was a dozen years from being on the market," he said during a question-and-answer session Friday before the NHL draft.
"What we had to do as a league was change, we had to embrace technology and we have to be responsive to what our younger fans want."
Some may balk at new ideas like puck and player tracking, eSports and expanding video review, but each has its place, Bettman said.
Technology can help officials make the right calls in an increasingly fast-paced game and help grow the NHL's audience, he added.
"We're not trying to force you to disrupt or consume sports differently," he said. "We want to use the opportunity of technology to bring younger people into the game as well."
Another team coming
The league also is growing its fan base by adding another team in Seattle, starting in the 2021-2022 season. While excitement about the new addition is high, the NHL isn't looking to expand any further, Bettman said.
Seattle's currently un-named franchise will be a "natural geographic rival" for the Vancouver Canucks, Bettman told the hometown crowd.
Still sour on Olympics
One issue that Bettman is concerned with, however, is having NHL players compete at the Winter Olympics.
The players did not go to the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics and there is no deal in place for Beijing 2022.
He said stopping the season in February simply isn't fair to the league.
"It's not that I'm not a fan of the Olympics. I'm not a fan of disrupting our season," he said, noting that the cost of sending and insuring athletes costs the league around $20 million US.
"We're not going to pay for the privilege of shutting down."
Having players travel the world to play in non-NHL games can also cause imbalances between teams, with some losing several players to injury while others go relatively unscathed, Bettman added.
"The disruption of the season is a real concern for the competitive integrity every night," he said.
Still, the commissioner knows that playing in the Olympics is important to many NHL athletes. The issue is expected to be discussed in upcoming negotiations over the league's collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA could be terminated in the fall of 2020.
Bettman said he won't be "looking for a fight" heading into the talks, but noted that both sides will need to decide what they can and can't live with.
"People don't want to hear about work stoppages. They want to see the game played without interruptions," he said.
4 Canadian teams playing on opening day
Four Canadian teams will be in action on the first night of the 2019-20 NHL season on Oct. 2.
The Toronto Maple Leafs host the Ottawa Senators and the Edmonton Oilers entertain the Vancouver Canucks in two of the four contests on the first night of the 1,271-game schedule.
The NHL announced home openers for all teams Friday and will unveil the full schedule on Tuesday.
Also on the first night of the season, the St. Louis Blues open defence of their Stanley Cup title against the visiting Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights host the San Jose Sharks in a rematch of a first-round playoff series.
The Calgary Flames' home opener is Oct. 5 against Vancouver, while the Senators play their first game in Ottawa the same day against the New York Rangers.
The Canucks open their home schedule Oct. 9 against the Los Angeles Kings. One night later, the Winnipeg Jets play their home opener against the Minnesota Wild and the Canadiens play their first game in Montreal against the Detroit Red Wings.