League set for smooth-as-ice start to 2014-15 season

Mon Oct 6, 2014 5:07pm EDT
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By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - With the NBA trying to recover from the Donald Sterling fiasco and the NFL reeling from a string of domestic violence cases, the National Hockey League opens a new season on Wednesday free of controversy.

With a $5.2 billion Canadian television-rights deal and guaranteed labor peace through the 2021-22 season, it seems as if NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is looking forward to the 2014-15 campaign with a smile.

"The game on the ice has never been more exciting, more entertaining, more competitive," Bettman told the Canadian Club of Toronto last month. "We're coming off our best season ever and we think this year is going to be even better.

"The fact is this is the most stable our franchises have ever been, the healthiest we have been ... we're feeling good about where we are, we're feeling good about the future."

With the 2018 Olympics nearly four years away the debate on whether to send NHL players has been pushed to the back burner along with any threat of a labor dispute as players and owners agreed to a 10-year collective bargaining agreement in 2013.

The NHL will stage two outdoor contests, four less than last season, starting with the Winter Classic on New Year's Day between Washington Capitals and visiting Chicago Blackhawks. In late February, the San Jose Sharks play the Los Angeles Kings at the home of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers.

Certainly the NHL's problems have not all suddenly vanished in a blur of billion-dollar rights deals, record revenues and soaring attendance.

There is still the troubling issue of concussions and threat of a costly lawsuit as well as the debate over fighting which is sure to resurface the next time a player is left bloodied and unconscious on the ice.   Continued...

Sep 23, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during a press conference for the 2015 Winter Classic hockey game to be played between the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports