NHL commissioner offers no apologies for lockout

NHL's Bettman: Huge demand to 'get in'

Although the National Hockey League has suffered four work stoppages in 20 years, taking the "hard medicine" to resolve the labor disputes was worth it, at least if rising ticket prices and increased player salaries are any indicator, commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday on CNBC.

"We needed to address our fundamentals to get the game healthy," Bettman told "Squawk on the Street." "We're in a much better place because we took the hard medicine in the short-term."

To make his case, Bettman said increased interest in the game has created "huge demand" for tickets, sending ticket prices through the roof.

Derek Stepan #21 of the New York Rangers shoots the puck on net against the Los Angeles Kings at Madison Square Garden on November 17, 2013 in New York City.
Scott Levy | NHLI | Getty Images

Tickets for the Stanley Cup Finals, played between the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers starting Wednesday, went on sale earlier this week. In the secondary market, tickets were advertised online for an average $2,424 a ticket in New York and $1,506 a ticket in L.A., according to TiqIQ.

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Still, Bettman said the high prices in the secondary market "shows perhaps our clubs don't even charge enough."

Bettman credited labor disputes with increasing the average player's salary, too. When he took helm of the league in 1993, he said the average player was paid roughly $330,000 a year. Today, the average player earns about $2.7 million a year.

In his more than 20 years running the NHL, Bettman has personally overseen and mediated three lockouts.

The NHL's latest labor dispute began in mid-September when the previous collective bargaining agreement expired. Both the league and players were at odds over how to split the NHL's $3.3 billion in revenue.

Owners sought more concessions from players despite a new $2 billion television deal, record revenue and Bettman's boast that the NHL was enjoying unprecedented popularity

The dispute, the first since a lockout wiped out the entire 2004-05 campaign, was the second- longest by the NHL and players. When the lockout ended in January, though, fans returned to arenas in droves.

"Our fans, who are the best fans in all of sports, understood what we were doing and when we solved the problems, and we didn't do it with a Band-Aid, they've come back in record numbers, both after the year that we lost an entire season and the abbreviated season of two seasons ago," Bettman said.

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Still, there are critics. Bettman dismissed criticism that he may have been the source of strife and that the NHL really could have had a bigger fan base, if the league hadn't thrice suffered a lockout during his tenure.

"We made long-term decisions. We were criticized for work stoppages, but we came back healthier each time," he said. "There are always going to be critics. They are always going to be debates, particularly in sports."

—By CNBC's Drew Sandholm with Reuters.