League, Rangers clash over marketing

The NHL is threatening to kick the owners of the New York Rangers out of the league or force them to sell the team as punishment for accusing league officials of violating antitrust laws.

The NHL filed court papers Wednesday that included a draft letter from commissioner Gary Bettman proposing discipline against Madison Square Garden L.P. that could lead to suspension or termination of its ownership of the Rangers. The Garden responded by accusing the NHL of using "bullying tactics."


In its court filing, the NHL asked a judge to agree Madison Square Garden breached its contract by challenging league rules.

Madison Square Garden sued the NHL in September, saying it violated antitrust laws by monopolizing control of team promotions. A judge ruled in November that the league seemed within its rights to take control of the team's Web site.


Madison Square Garden, which is owned by Cablevision Systems Corp., owns the Rangers, the NBA's New York Knicks, the WNBA's New York Liberty and Madison Square Garden - the home of the Rangers, Knicks and Liberty.

MSG spokesman Barry Watkins said yesterday that the league was consistent but wrong in its handling of the dispute.

"Not surprisingly, the NHL is once again proving why an independent judge must address our claims. Despite trying to resolve our differences privately, the league has responded with excessive fines and now threats that have nothing to do with the merits of our position," he said.

"The NHL shouldn't be afraid of the judicial system. We will pursue our case vigorously and will not be intimidated by the NHL's bullying tactics."

MSG first went to the courts just as the league was preparing to fine the organization $100,000 per day if the company did not give the hockey league complete control over the Rangers' Web site and other promotions.

Draft -- Lightning general manager Jay Feaster is all but certain he will select forward Steven Stamkos with the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft tonight. "Oh yeah, that's the worst-kept secret," Feaster said, noting he already has Stamkos penciled in as the team's second-line center. "I think he's special. I don't think they come around all that often."

Capitals -- Washington signed 2006 draft pick Oskar Osala to a three-year entry-level contract. Osala was Washington's fourth-round choice in the draft two years ago. The left wing, 20, played for a team last year in his native Finland, where he had 18 goals and 17 assists in 53 games.

Hurricanes -- Carolina came to terms with defenseman Tim Gleason on a four-year, $11 million contract and acquired the rights to winger Darcy Hordichuk from Nashville for a conditional fifth-round pick in this weekend's draft.