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Bettman: League, game thrived during '14-15 season

NHL.com @NHL

TAMPA -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the media before the start of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena.

Here is a transcript of his comments.

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Good evening and welcome to the Stanley Cup Final. Obviously, this is the culmination of an outstanding season, what has been, what we expect to continue to be, a truly remarkable playoff.

Congratulations to our respective conference champions, each of whom, as you know, won a Game 7 on the road to get here.

In particular, congratulations to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jeff Vinik, Tod Leiweke, Steve Griggs, Steve Yzerman, Jon Cooper, captain Steven Stamkos, all the players on the Lightning.

And to the Chicago Blackhawks, Rocky Wirtz, John McDonough, Jay Blunk, Stan Bowman, Joel Quenneville and captain Jonathan Toews, and obviously all the players on the Blackhawks.

I also would like to thank all of our teams, all of our players, and in particular all of our fans for their contribution to the excitement and entertainment we've all enjoyed over the 238 days since the 2014-2015 season began.

We had a regular season that ended with the top 16 teams being separated by only 16 points. That's the smallest gap in the history of the 16-team playoff format.

We've seen a playoffs in which 10 of 14 series to this point have gone to six or seven games, reaffirming the closeness and competitiveness of our League.

Now we reach the ultimate showdown for the ultimate prize in sports, obviously the Stanley Cup, which will showcase the stars and stories of two teams who clearly have earned the right to compete for it.

I'm looking forward to the series. I think it's also exciting to look ahead to what actually is one of the busiest months for us on our calendar.

We have the scouting combine, which is already in progress, obviously the Final, the Competition Committee, meetings of the League's general managers, team presidents and the Board of Governors, and we have the Award show, the release of next season's schedule, and the 2015 Draft in Sunrise, Fla. June is going to be fun.

In a nutshell, the state of our League and the state of our game is strong. The game has never been more exciting, more entertaining or more competitive. This is a testament to our players, our coaches, our organizations and our ownership.

Our franchises have never been stronger and our ownership never better. Obviously there are always going to be issues and challenges that arise and have to be dealt with. We try to do so in a timely and direct basis.

At the same time we have enormous opportunities in front of us, whether it's the continuation of the evolution of media, and in particular social media and digital platforms, or an increasing international presence. We are as excited about the future as we are where we see ourselves today.

We will continue to try and provide more and more access to the game for our fans, and the response to those efforts to date so far has been phenomenal. But that response doesn't surprise me because there is never any doubt that we have the best, most knowledgeable and most passionate fans in all of sports. For that, we are grateful.

So there's a lot going on, a lot to look forward to this month. Obviously, we're looking forward to a great series. But with so much to anticipate, including your questions, I'll be happy to take them.

With me here today, to the extent I want to deflect some questions, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, Chief Operating Officer John Collins, Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell.

With that, I'll be happy to take your questions.

Q. Your comment on the story posted by Bob McKenzie in the last hour of the potential sale of the Penguins?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: To the extent anything is to be said about that, I'll have to defer to the club. If they have an announcement to make, they'll make it.

Q. Bill Foley announced today 11,500 season tickets. What led you to allow him to release a specific number? What are your thoughts on the number he is at now?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Well, the fact of the matter is, it's his process. He was the one testing the marketplace. If he decided he wanted to announce a count, or what level of success they've achieved to this point, that's up to him.

I will report that to the Board of Governors at the meeting in June. Assuming that number is accurate, I have no reason to doubt that, it looks like his drive has had some degree of success, to say the least.

Q. A few weeks out from when I suppose you'll finalize the cap number for next year. Do you have any idea on where that looks to be going?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: No. We'll have to have a discussion with the Players' Association. As we've said all along, if we use the full 5 percent, our preliminary calculations is we'll be somewhere over 71. But the cap is somewhere in the 70, 71 range, we believe.

Q. (No microphone.)

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Obviously we need to have a discussion with the Players' Association. I'd rather have that direct discussion with them rather than more circuitous means.

Q. You've spoken over the years about prudent spending. I wonder what your thoughts are on one of your membership teams spending $50 million on an eight-year contract for a coach?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: One of our clubs did that?

Our clubs are free to do what they think is in their own best interest when they're retaining executive talent, managerial talent.

In Toronto, Mike Babcock decided this was a good thing for both of them to do, that's their decision.

Q. Can you address the ongoing reports surrounding the Arizona Coyotes and whether there is a lease issue with the City of Glendale?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: There have been lots of stories written. Based on our ongoing dialogue with the club, they are inaccurate. They have a lease that's in full force and effect. Their obligations are being met currently.

The club is not going anywhere. So I don't know where or why these reports are coming from, but I refer you to Anthony LeBlanc, who is running the club on a day-to-day basis, and he will confirm what I just told you.

It's unfortunate there still seems to be some degree of distraction in terms of the coverage of the club. But they'll deal with it and time will tell that, in fact, they're doing a good job of building that club in Arizona.

Q. There was a question about the new coach in Toronto. You've sort of changed how the league is going to deal with compensation for staff going from team to team. Can you give us an update on that? Are you pleased with how that's going? Is that something you'll be discussing with the GMs and/or the Board of Governors in Vegas?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: 'Pleased' isn't exactly the word I would use.

As I think you all know, arising out of the disputes eight or nine years ago, I established a policy that there is no compensation. Personnel, under contract, if you want to talk to the team that had the rights, either said yes or no. Once they said yes, and the deal could be struck, then that person was free to go.

The managers as a group for years, probably two or three, cajoled, begged, pleaded, demanded that we make a change. We wanted something that was straightforward and simple, although I believe there was nothing more straightforward and simple than what we had.

We put in effect the new policy for the potential for compensation on January 1, and we'll let it run a full year before we consider doing anything. At that point in time the options will be to either clarify, to modify or to eliminate. But we'll let it run its course over a full year and then decide what, if anything, we want to do.

Q. I was wondering your thoughts on the Tampa Bay Lightning ticket policy that makes it difficult for Chicago Blackhawks fans to get tickets?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Tampa Bay has truly become a hockey market. You can see the passion, the excitement, the level of sophistication, even since the last Stanley Cup. That's nice to see. I think that's a testament to Jeff Vinik and the organization he's put together and the commitment he's made to the team, to this building, and to the community.

I believe that the Lightning are attempting to create as good a home-ice atmosphere as possible. The interesting thing is, they apparently have the luxury of knowing that the building is sold out even if they try to limit tickets.

Having said that, any Blackhawk fan that really wants to get into the game can figure out a way to do it. It's not all that difficult. But what's nice to see is this market has reached the point where they believe, and they've actually been able to fill the building on a regular basis with Lightning fans.

Q. Back to the idea of compensation back and forth between teams. I know you love hypotheticals.

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: That's because I generally don't answer them.

Q. If there were to be a change in that rule, any compensation that is owed based on deals that happened during this year...

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: What's done is done.

Q. So what's done is done, regardless of whether the pick had changed hands yet?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: The fact of the matter is everybody's operating under a system, basically possibly with some adjustments, due to some people's interpretations, but this is a system that the GMs wanted, and I acceded to. We'll see how it works for a year. That's what's going to govern what happens during this calendar year.

Q. I'm probably jinxing it, but I think we've only had one suspension so far in the postseason.

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: That's correct.

Q. I was wondering what your thoughts are vis-à-vis that happening versus previous seasons.

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I think the prior season we saw five suspensions, the season prior to that 13.

I think the Department of Player Safety is doing a terrific job. I think it's doing a terrific job under Brendan Shanahan, and I think Stephane Quintal is doing a great job. I think the players have responded to the initiatives that have been put in place, the rule changes that have been adjusted. In that regard, without jinxing it, I think it's been really good.

Q. Pending your update to the board next month on where things stand with Seattle, Vegas, Québec City, can you clarify what the next steps are if indeed the board decides to push the agenda further?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: That's a good question.

If after our discussion in June where I'm going to report where all of the expressions of interest stand, including what Las Vegas has been able to accomplish with the ticket drive, if the board has any interest in pursuing it, my recommendation would then be to open a formal expansion process.

The board may say, That's interesting, but we still don't want to do anything. That's an option. And even if they green light a formal expansion process, doesn't mean we're going to expand. It means we'll go through the steps of looking through things, and the conclusion at the end of that process could be very well no expansion.

So it would just be a question of possibly looking at the expressions of interest and looking at them a little more seriously than we have.

Q. You mentioned the strength of this market, how it's matured. There's another market in Florida that's not quite at that level. How would you assess where things are with the Florida Panthers?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: They're absolutely on the right track. As you've heard me say repeatedly, ownership is the key difference. You see it in franchises that are successful, you see it in franchises that have had a difficult time and have come back.

Vinnie Viola has the commitment and resources to make it work. He's had to retool and revamp the operation down there. I believe the club is heading in the right direction.

There were some rumors that we were made aware of over the last few hours, one saying that a club was going to relocate by the end of June. That is not going to happen. I don't know why publications make those things up, even under the guise of a rumor. The Panthers are not filing for bankruptcy. I don't know where these stories come from, but they're not true.

Q. Why aren't you pleased with the compensation system?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Because obviously it wasn't as simple. The other system was much simpler. Either let the person go or don't.

I didn't believe it was necessary. After repeated conversations with the general managers, I ultimately deferred to their desire and request, with the caveat that if we have any disputes we're going back to the old system. So far we haven't had any disputes. Some debates, but no disputes.

Q. I think it was a couple weeks ago you were in Chicago and commented there was no evidence of a link between CTE and players playing in the NHL. Since then another former NHL player dropped a lawsuit on you guys. What would you say to those that are contending there is a link?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: The fact of the matter is to the extent anybody is suffering from an illness or worse, it's tragic.

I was, shall we say, criticized in some quarters for what I said. For those of you who haven't read Judge Brody's decision in the NFL case, I recommend that you do. It's about 130 pages. Somewhere around the middle, Judge Brody said exactly what I said about the linkage or lack thereof.

You can criticize me all you want for saying it, but that apparently is the state of the world according to the judge who handled the NFL case as well.

Q. Slava Voynov of the Kings is scheduled to go to trial next month on felony spousal abuse charges. Can the league still impose a suspension regardless of what the outcome is in the legal system?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: We have a variety of options in terms of how we react to the ultimate resolution of that case from a legal standpoint. I'm not going to speculate as to what those options might be and under what circumstances we might impose them.

We're obviously sitting back and waiting to let the judicial system run its course.

Q. Commissioner, to the best of your knowledge, has the NHL ever promoted fighting?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I don't quite understand the question. I mean, the fact is fighting is a small part of the game, and the game gets promoted.

Q. Any update on the status of Olympic participation at this point?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: None. We haven't had any discussions with the Players' Association about it. We remain focused on getting the World Cup up and running. I know that the IIHF has indicated to us there's still plenty of time for us to focus on that issue.

Thank you all for joining us and enjoy the Final.

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