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Commissioner says NHL 'stronger every season' @NHLdotcom

NEW YORK -- Commissioner Gary Bettman discussed the financial state of the NHL among several topics Thursday at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit.

Bettman, while being interviewed by Bloomberg's Tom Keene, praised the League's competitive balance as a key component of increased success in several areas.

"Over the last decade now, we've gotten stronger every season," Commissioner Bettman said. "As [Tom] pointed out, last year may have been the strongest ever. The point is, why? It starts with the game. It starts with the way the game is being played, the skill, the speed, the competitive balance that we have that is perhaps maybe the best we've ever seen and the best in all of sports. Every team is in it in the regular season, most of the regular season.

"The playoffs are wildly unpredictable. How many games did we see where it turned around when a team was down by three goals? We had a series where a team came back after being down 3-0 in the series. That's a testament to how the game is being played and how exciting and entertaining it is. You combine that with the things we're doing around the game to build the business of the game: Attendance has never been better, ratings have never been better, and business has never been better."

Expansion was an extended topic during Commissioner Bettman's panel at the summit. He refuted a recent report that the NHL will expand by four teams, as well as the financial figures involved.

"Nothing has changed on that front from any announcement we've made, which is we're not expanding and we're not relocating," Commissioner Bettman said. "The only thing that bothered me about the story was it said we're going to sell four teams for [$1.4 billion] and that's too low ... if we were going to do it all."

On the subject of geographical territory rights, Commissioner Bettman said there is no issue for the New York Islanders moving to Brooklyn because they will remain in their territory. He said any additional teams in Canada would not alter the terms of the new television deal with Rogers, but would give the company more content.

Keene also asked about player dilution, and how adding teams and players to the League would work.

"We haven't thought about any of those things because we're not in expansion mode," Commissioner Bettman said. "We're getting lots of expressions of interest. All we're doing right now is listening."

Commissioner Bettman reiterated previous statements about being close to naming a successor to Brendan Shanahan as senior vice president of Player Safety, and he is hopeful of an announcement about the NHL's involvement in international hockey, including the return of the World Cup on a consistent basis, in the near future.

The Commissioner also was asked about topics dealing with game play, including goalie equipment and the number of goals being scored per game. After he told Keene there are about 5.5 goals per game, he asked the Commissioner if he'd like that number to be higher.

"A little higher than that would be nice, but it is not important," Commissioner Bettman said. "What is more important to that is the amount of lead changes we're seeing. Go back to when Tampa Bay played Calgary in the [2004] Stanley Cup Final, the last games played under the old system before the salary cap and the rule changes we did when we took the year off, and the team that scored the first goal in a Stanley Cup Playoff game was the team that won. We're seeing lead changes in the playoffs left and right, and that's what makes the game so entertaining."

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