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All calm and friendly as Bettman interviews new NHLPA boss Kelly

The Canadian Press
By:
The Hockey News
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All calm and friendly as Bettman interviews new NHLPA boss Kelly

The Canadian Press
By:

All was warm and friendly as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman interviewed NHL Players Association executive director Paul Kelly on his weekly radio show on Thursday.

"Paul has been really good to deal with," Bettman said after the 15-minute interview ended on the NHL Hour show on XM Radio from New York.

The two men represent opposing sides in a league that had the entire 2004-05 season wiped out by a lockout, but Kelly is the new man, taking over three months ago after the house-cleaning that swept former boss Ted Saskin out of the NHLPA.

While hardly adversarial, Bettman didn't avoid one of the tougher issues between the players and the league - whether the union will exercise its option to reopen the collective bargaining agreement after the 2008-09 season.

Kelly said he would meet with the players at the end of the season or during breaks in the season to "see what concerns them and decide whether we should take action, like reopening the CBA."

"It's too early. We haven't had time to assess the situation. If that's what the players want, that is what we'll do." Kelly is just settling into the job and has spent most of his first weeks visiting each team to listen to the players' concerns.

Asked what is his top priority, Kelly said "gaining the trust of the players, introducing them to issues and seeing what's important to them."

He also hopes to "bring back that sense of inclusiveness and cohesion" to the players union, which was split after the lockout between Saskin's supporters and opponents.

And he said players should help to grow the league's revenues.

"To be more creative, perhaps to be more assessable," he said. "To understand that it's a sport and it's also entertainment." He said players have told him they support opening the season with games outside North America, such as the two regular season games the Los Angeles Kings played against the Anaheim Ducks in London in late September.

More games are expected to be played in Europe next fall.

On expansion. Kelly said the players "are comfortable with the league as it is now." He said he was misquoted in a recent story that said he supports expansion, especially to Canada. Instead, he said he feels Canadian cities should be strongly considered if the league decides to expand in the future.

One of the first things Bettman and Kelly did together was attend meetings with international hockey federations in New York on Jan. 16 on a new player transfer agreement.

An agreement is expected to be concluded at another meeting next month, but Russia insists it won't be part of it.

"We had a good meeting with the international federations," Bettman said after the interview. "I think we worked really well together and I think that bodes well for the future."

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All calm and friendly as Bettman interviews new NHLPA boss Kelly