LOS ANGELES -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is not evil, though many Canadian fans might dispute that.
He has done a remarkable job building the league's business operations to the point where in a shaky economy the NHL's revenues are projected to rise four to five percent compared with last season's record of just over $2.7 billion.
But he's disconnected from those who love the game at a visceral level, a point reinforced when he chatted with reporters Sunday in Anaheim.
Asked whether negotiations have begun to replace the collective bargaining agreement that will expire Sept. 15, 2012, Bettman insisted it's not worth worrying about yet.
"We're having a great season going on. We've got another one to come. I'm not sure why any attention is really being focused on our collective bargaining right now," he said.
The lockout that canceled the 2004-05 NHL season is reason enough to fear another shutdown. So is the labor uncertainty surrounding Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA.
"But we're after all those guys," he said. "If you like, focus on the other three. I think they're more front and center than we are right now."
Sorry, Gary, but fans are worried now.
Fans fear you'll kill another season, and for what? The last lockout was supposed to reduce ticket prices and allow teams to compete on even footing. The ticket price promise was broken and small-market teams can't flourish with a salary floor that's higher than the ceiling was after the lockout.
Bettman seems to think it's automatic that fans will return after another lockout, but that's not guaranteed. He said the NHL "overcame the damage the first day we were back from the work stoppage" because fans "have been great in understanding what we had to go through and because we took a huge step forward in addressing our issue, the fans got it, and the game on the ice and the competitive balance is all a function of what came out of the year off."
Gary, don't tell us not to worry. Just get a deal done without losing another season.
SHARKS HAVE NO BITE
Maybe they've just started their annual playoff flop early, but the San Jose Sharks are struggling to do what they should be doing as well as any team: score goals.
The Sharks have lost a season-worst four straight games and have scored once in their last three games. A team meeting called by General Manager Doug Wilson last week after they were blanked by Buffalo didn't work: in their next game they took 43 shots against Nashville but lost, 2-1. On Sunday they took 37 shots at Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller but were shut out again.
"Since I've been here I haven't seen a drought like this, as far as not being able to score," said left wing Ryane Clowe, in his sixth season with San Jose. "But on the other hand, some of the chances we've had and some of the saves that have been made are unbelievable. You might be able to do a whole highlight reel for the year on the last three games and the saves that goalies have made on us."
Coach Todd McLellan said his team's most formidable foe now is doubt.
"We'll have to remind them through meetings, video, practice, that they are very good players, that they have a lot of offensive talent, that they are creating chances," he said. "But at the end of the day... it's about wins and losses. We can feel real good about effort. It's needed. But so are the wins."
Sweden's Gabriel Landeskog, who plays for Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League, and compatriot Adam Larsson, who plays for Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League, led the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's midseason rankings for the June entry draft among North Americans and Europeans, respectively.
Landeskog, a left wing, or Larsson, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound defenseman, could become the first Swede chosen No. 1 since Mats Sundin was selected by the Quebec Nordiques in 1989. Ranked behind Landeskog is Drummondville center Sean Couturier, whose father, Sylvain, played 33 games for the Kings from 1988-89 through 1991-92. Sean was born in Phoenix while his father played for their farm team, the Roadrunners.