Byline: Rob Cox
The NHL's unobtrusive comeback.
It must be killing Gary Bettman to keep so much good news on ice. The National Hockey League is Bettman's business, and business is the best it has been since he became its commissioner nearly 20 years ago. Thanks to ferocious competition inside the rink and the biggest broadcasting commitment in league history, more Americans are debating the finer points of penalty kills and two-line passes than ever.
But Bettman can't skate a victory lap. Right after the Stanley Cup is awarded in a couple weeks, the NHL will square off in a brawl of its own. For the first time since ending the disastrous lockout that froze the 2004-05 season, the 30 league owners will head into negotiations with players, who are led by the fearsome enforcer Donald Fehr, to thrash out a collective-bargaining agreement. As much as Bettman might like to celebrate, he will have to downplay the league's success as a negotiating posture.
Last time around, the NHL Players Association made concessions, including a relatively low ceiling on salaries. With the …