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NHL SHOULD EMPHASIZE TRADITIONAL RIVALRIES

Bucky Gleason's chat with Scotty Bowman on changes needed by the NHL was interesting. Among Scotty's several suggestions to save the game and bring back the fans, one was missing.

How Gary Bettman still sticks around is beyond me. Fans would probably fill arenas for one game to celebrate the exit of Bettman, but that apparently isn't going to happen. So how does one get the fans to return?

The biggest of Bettman's blunders (and there were many) was the elimination of rivalries. They no longer exist as a result of his penchant to expand and play only a handful of games against former rivals. Games against Boston, Montreal and Ottawa are getting the same treatment as if they were Columbus, Nashville and Atlanta. Toronto still brings in fans. But more often than not, a couple of months go by when they don't face each other.

Here's what's needed: Bring back the rivalries. Schedule nine games against each division team (36 games). Schedule three games against teams in the other two divisions in the conference (30 games). Then, schedule one game against each team in the Western Conference, 15 games with home sites in alternate years. That totals 81 games.

Put the premium on division and conference games, like the NFL, not the NBA. Who cares if Phoenix, the Mighty Ducks, Calgary or Oilers don't visit Buffalo for two years. Fans would rather see Toronto, Montreal, Islanders, Devils, Flyers, Boston and Rangers more often.

Owners would save quite a bit of money on travel costs (and one game's salary) and fans would return to those good old days when rivalries brought them to the arenas in droves.

Naturally, all this makes a lot of sense something that seems to escape Bettman and his cronies at the top.

Art Wander

Lancaster