Gary Bettman says Philip Anschutz deserves credit

Philip Anschutz, who bought the Kings out of bankruptcy in 1995 and built Staples Center, hasn’t gotten enough credit for stabilizing the franchise, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday before the Kings faced the Vancouver Canucks at Staples Center in Game 4 of their playoff series.

Anschutz, a Denver-based billionaire who regularly shuns interviews, has been vilified by fans who contend he ignores the team and bought it only to get a foothold in downtown real estate. Not so, Bettman said during an interview with The Times, adding that he had seen Anschutz’s distaste for losing.

“The fact that he doesn’t choose to be out in the public doesn’t diminish the fact that he’s passionate about the team and that since AEG bought the team … he has been there for the team in every way that mattered and he has been supporting the team financially,” Bettman said.

“And so to that extent it always amazes me when I read the stories about this is the equivalent of corporate ownership where nobody cares, or it’s only about the money.”

Having the Kings in the playoffs after an eight-year absence, Bettman said, “is always good for the fans of the team. Any team. It’s always good for any organization to overcome long droughts when a team hasn’t been as successful as everyone would have hoped.”

Bettman, who has been in office more than 17 years and said he has not thought about how much longer he will stay, discussed a variety of topics.

He said the league has managed to hold its own in a tough financial climate, though final numbers for this season aren’t in. The salary cap rose $100,000 from 2008-09 to $56.8 million for this season and Bettman said he doesn’t anticipate much change for next season. Last season revenues rose about 5%, slightly short of projections.

“I think we’re either going to be flat or up or down a percent or two, which is basically flat,” he said. “In this environment this is pretty good, and relative to the other sports I understand that’s very good.”

He also praised the competitiveness in the postseason, attributing it to “the way the game is being played now, which is a function of the officiating standards and the rules changes, and the fact that all teams can now afford to be competitive under the system we have.”

He also debunked theories that the league conspired to help Sunbelt teams and ignores Canadian franchises, a topic explored earlier this week in the Toronto Globe and Mail.

“If that were the case, why has it taken eight years for the Kings to be in the playoffs? Why have the Panthers not been in the playoffs for 10 years? I don’t think it’s appropriate to dignify unfounded accusations,” he said.

The review that nullified an apparent Canucks goal in Game 3 fed those theories because of the involvement of Mike Murphy, a former Kings player and coach and now the NHL’s vice president of hockey operations. The CBC aired a graphic that stated his Kings connection while interviewing Murphy by phone.

Bettman said the perception of bias was “absurd…it seems to be a subtle jab at integrity which is unfounded and inappropriate.” He added, “Perhaps it’s the CBC that evidences a rooting interest for its own TV ratings.”