BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Commissioner Gary Bettman lauded the state of the game as the annual three-day March meeting of NHL general managers finished Wednesday.
"I think if there was one conclusion to be reached from all of the discussions is I think managers to a man believe that the game is in really good shape and we're looking forward to an exciting stretch run to the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs," Commissioner Bettman said. "Obviously, once the playoffs begin anything can happen, but we're having a very, very strong season on the ice and that's what this is all about; that's where it starts."
Commissioner Bettman cited the competitive balance in the League this season as one metric of health.
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The top five teams in the Metropolitan Division are separated by six points in the standings. The Washington Capitals and New York Islanders have 83 points each. The Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins have 79 each, and the Columbus Blue Jackets have 77.
In the Western Conference, five points separate the St. Louis Blues (74), Dallas Stars (73), Minnesota Wild (72), Colorado Avalanche (70) and Arizona Coyotes (69). It's likely only three of those five teams will reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"The skill of our players and what takes place every night is just fantastic," Commissioner Bettman said. "But we don't take anything for granted and that's the reason we have these meetings. Hockey Operations is watching and reviewing every game as it's being played, looking for trends, looking for potential issues.
"The three days we have with [the general managers] is a very good time for reflection, but on balance I think everybody is really extraordinarily pleased with the state of the game."
Issues remain and many of those were addressed by the managers during the past three days.
Commissioner Bettman continues to characterize the ongoing collective bargaining discussions between the NHL and NHL Players' Association as constructive and cordial.
The current CBA, a 10-year agreement ratified in January 2013, expires after the 2021-22 season. Without an extension in place, each side would have the opportunity to reopen. The decision to do so would terminate the CBA in September 2020. The NHL can reopen Sept. 1. If it doesn't, the NHLPA can do so Sept. 15.
"There is nothing substantive to report, but I think all of us in this room believe labor peace is important and we hope we can maintain it," Commissioner Bettman said.
Bettman also addressed the Ottawa Senators, who are trying to build a downtown arena to replace Canadian Tire Centre on the outskirts of the city. Plans for the Senators to be part of a development of a state-of-the-art arena and entertainment complex in the LeBreton Flats area of the city fell through last week.
Owner Eugene Melnyk said in a statement that he remains committed to finding a new location for a new arena.
"We are here for the long term and want a world class venue where Ottawans will live, work, play and enjoy the best the city has to offer," Melnyk said. "The people of Ottawa deserve this."
The Senators traded forwards Mark Stone, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, their top three scorers, before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25, pushing deeper into a rebuild that Melnyk said could last through the 2020-21 season.
"Teams go through ebbs and flows both on the ice and with their fanbases," said Commissioner Bettman, who said the League would be involved in future arena plans in Ottawa if asked. "Eugene Melnyk is doing what is expected of him as an owner in terms of meeting the team's obligations, and management and ownership for any franchise at any given time might think it's time for a rebuild, and that's what has to be done. Teams go through cycles."