GARY BETTMAN IS IN A GOOD MOOD. Two days earlier, an independent arbitrator upheld the league's rejection of the Devils' first attempt to sign Ilya Kovalchuk. The decision backed Bettman's belief that the 17-year, $102 million deal was just a blatant end run around the NHL's salary cap. It was the latest validation of Bettman's stature as the most dominating commissioner in pro sports. Even the August sun, pouring through a wall of windows into Bettman's Manhattan office, seems to shine for him. He's relaxed, even cheery, in pleasant contrast to his reputation as a pugnacious and humorless know-it-all who looks as if he were born in a dark suit. At the moment, he's even in shirtsleeves -- blue tie knotted at his throat, but shirtsleeves nonetheless. "Whatever you want, we're happy to help," he says.
14hBonnie D. Ford
1dDan Arritt, Special to ESPN.com
8hAdam Schefter and Tania Ganguli