PHILADELPHIA - Gary Bettman understands the risks of a work stoppage as well as any sports commissioner.

He oversaw the 1994-95 NHL lockout that delayed the start of the season and forced a 48-game regular-season schedule. When labor problems lingered in 2004-05, Bettman shut down the league.

Bettman knows the pain that NBA players, owners and fans feel and the financial and career gambles they're taking as the messy lockout continues. Everyone from the parking attendants and restaurant owners to the peanut vendors and ushers suffers with no games.

He just hopes the NHL doesn't make that sport stoppages list again.

The NHL's collective bargaining agreement is set to expire Sept. 15, 2012, and discussions are scheduled to begin shortly after the NHL All-Star break at the end of January.

Donald Fehr, the executive director of the NHL Players' Association, has said he does not expect acrimonious negotiations. Bettman has declined to discuss specifics of what he expects out of the negotiations - just know that he wants the NHL business to continue to grow.

"We've been spending time together," Bettman said. "I've known Don for 30 years. He's quite smart and capable. I'm sure he'll do a very workman-like job in representing his constituents."

Before labor negotiations begin, Bettman hopes to have a better handle on realignment.

Vancouver businessman Tom Gaglardi just bought the Dallas Stars, and he's already lobbied Bettman to get the team out of the Western Conference.

The Winnipeg Jets are still stuck in the Southeast Division with Washington, Florida, Carolina and Tampa Bay for this season. Bettman wants the Jets in the Western Conference.

"We're going to have to address it, and that's something we'll do with the board (of governors) in December," Bettman said.

Bettman was in Philadelphia this week for the ribbon cutting on a renovated rink that's part of Flyers chairman Ed Snider's youth hockey program. Three neglected, open-air rinks in Philadelphia have been transformed as part of a $13 million restoration project into reconstructed, closed rinks worthy of an NHL practice facility.

Bettman will be back in Philly in January for the Winter Classic game between the Flyers and New York Rangers at Citizens Bank Park - a game that has developed into the NHL's signature event behind the Stanley Cup finals.

He takes pride in the overwhelming success of the Winter Classic. Teams are enthusiastic about hosting or playing the game, set this season for Jan. 2, 2012, and the behind-the-scenes "24/7" show on HBO has bolstered the league's visibility in the U.S. sports scene, where interest can lag.

A look around the league at the quarter-mark of the season shows why Bettman is pleased with the early returns - and how devastating another work stoppage could be to a league that has rebuilt itself.

Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby proved in his first game back from a serious concussion why he's the NHL's signature star with a spectacular four-point game on Monday night. His smooth debut in MVP form after a 10-month layoff has made the Penguins the Stanley Cup front-runners.

"It's great that Sid's feeling good, and he's back to his old tricks," said Bettman, who kept in touch with Crosby during the layoff.

The NHL, the first league to study head injuries in 1997 and have baseline testing, continues to try to be proactive addressing concussions, Bettman said.

Wednesday's late games

• Canucks 3, Avalanche 0: In Denver, Cory Schneider stopped 24 shots for his second career shutout, Manny Malhotra and Alexandre Burrows had early goals, and Vancouver beat Colorado for the 10th time in 12 games.

• Sharks 1, Blackhawks 0: In San Jose, Calif., Antti Niemi made 34 saves against his former team for his first shutout of the season and Jason Demers broke a scoreless tie late in the second period with his first goal to lead the Sharks to a win over Chicago.