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Bettman: NHL enjoying one of its best seasons

by Dan Rosen

LOS ANGELES -- Noting the NHL's theme that the 2013-14 season is like no other, Commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday the League is nearing the completion of its best season.

"By almost any measure, this may have been the most successful season on and off the ice in League history," Commissioner Bettman said during his press conference prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center.

"There has been a lot written, discussed and debated about the road we took to get to this point, where we are today, but I'm always one to look forward. Our objective was, and always is, to make a great game even greater, to give our fans the best sports experience and entertainment possible and the best opportunities to connect with our game. The 2013-14 campaign accomplished that objective."

Commissioner Bettman said the NHL set records for attendance and for viewership on NBC this season. He also said the four Coors Light NHL Stadium Series games, the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic, the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and the new divisional alignment and format for the Stanley Cup Playoffs have engaged fans at a new level.

"Our plan is to continue to find innovative ways to further increase our game's growth and momentum," Commissioner Bettman said.

The resurrection of the World Cup of Hockey, which was last contested in 2004, could be one of the ways to continue the momentum, he said, although he added the League is not prepared to make any announcements about future World Cup competition because it is part of an ongoing discussion with the National Hockey League Players' Association.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the League and the NHLPA are continuing discussions about the future international calendar during the Stanley Cup Final.

"Even if we announce that we're doing a World Cup, for example, in [2016], the fact is you'd then have 20 follow-up questions on how it would work, what the different issues were and how they'd be addressed," Commissioner Bettman said. "We want to get to a position where we and the Players' Association are comfortable that we're in agreement on all of those issues. That is something that we have been working on and will continue to work on.

"The World Cup, hopefully when we get to it, will be part of an international calendar that will do lots of other things, whether it's exhibition games, regular-season games, clinics or the like. We don't necessarily view the World Cup as a one-off, which is why the discussions are as elaborate as they are."

Commissioner Bettman said the pending decision on the World Cup does not affect the NHL's view on future Olympic participation. He said League executives have not held discussions about the participation of League players in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

"That is something that ultimately we're going to have to resolve," Commissioner Bettman said of future Olympic participation. "I'm not sure that we necessarily have to resolve it if and when we make a World Cup announcement."

Concussions are down

Commissioner Bettman said the number of reported concussions is down this season. He did not supply a definitive figure on the reduced number of concussions but said it is was "moderate to low double-digits as a percentage matter." He also said man-games lost to concussion are approximately half of previous totals.

"I think that's a function of the concussion protocols working," Commissioner Bettman said. "We are serious about them, as is the Players' Association. They are being enforced. If we think there has been a violation, we follow up. If in the appropriate case there needs to be discipline imposed, we will do it. And if we think we need to do more, with speculation about independent doctors, that's something we'll discuss and do if necessary."

Expansion not on table

Commissioner Bettman said the NHL is not engaged in a formal expansion process and is not in any expansion mode.

He said the Seattle market has the most number of people interested in landing a NHL team, but building issues remain; one of the primary proponents, Chris Hansen, wants a tenant in place before he builds an arena.

"The fact is there's no building that's on the horizon," Commissioner Bettman said.

Commissioner Bettman pointed out that Hansen's partner, Steve Ballmer, is in the process of purchasing the Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA for approximately $2 billion.

"Based on what's happened to date and the fact that his partner has now bought a different franchise, or is apparently buying a different franchise, I don't know if there is any prospect of a building in Seattle," Commissioner Bettman said. "It's nice that there is interest, but there's really not a whole lot for us to do with it."

Commissioner Bettman said there is a building in Quebec City that could be used for a new NHL team, but mentioned there are obstacles there.

"That would cause us to have yet another team in the East and I'm not even sure how we'd deal with it," Commissioner Bettman said. "If, in fact, we get to a point where there is enough interest in enough places that it warrants consideration, then the Board of Governors may well invoke a formal expansion process and we'll look at everything."

Status quo on Islanders ownership

Commissioner Bettman said New York Islanders owner Charles Wang is continuing to consider his options regarding a potential sale of all or part of the franchise, but no decision has been made.

"I don't think he's reached a firm conclusion yet as to whether or not he wants to sell, sell it all, sell a piece," Commissioner Bettman said. "Until he does, none of us will know what the ownership situation will be. He's not under any pressure to do it. I think he's trying to come to grips with what he wants to do."


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