SHENZHEN, China -- The NHL's vision to grow the sport in China could include playing regular-season games here, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Saturday.
Commissioner Bettman was speaking at a press conference at Universiade Sports Center prior to the first of two preseason games between the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames in the 2018 O.R.G. NHL China Games.
The Bruins and Flames, who also play at Cadillac Arena in Beijing on Wednesday (7:30 a.m. ET; NBCSN. SN), are the third and fourth NHL teams to play preseason games in China. The Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks played in Beijing and Shanghai last season.
"It's obviously easier to deal with the travel issues by scheduling in the preseason and giving the participating teams a little bit of a head start, which is what we've been able to do," Commissioner Bettman said. "I think that at some point we will get to the stage where we will be considering regular-season games. Although we haven't had the full discussions that we have to have internally and with the players, but I think if it's going to happen it will probably be at the beginning of the season so that we can start things out and get the players back to play their schedule."
Commissioner Bettman also said the NHL is in preliminary discussions with its business partners here -- Bloomage International Investment Group and O.R.G. Packaging -- to return to China next year for preseason games.
Bloomage is opening an arena in Chongqing on Sunday, making that a possible host city for a preseason game next year.
"We are already talking about what the future holds," Commissioner Bettman said. "It's not surprising because we're here for the games, but a number of us are here to talk to, work with and have discussions with our business partners so we are focused on what comes next."
The Commissioner said several teams have requested to be a part of future NHL China Games.
"Our teams across the board are focused on playing games outside of North America, whether or not preseason or regular season," Commissioner Bettman said. "There is no shortage of clubs that are anxious to participate, in part because it's a great bonding experience for the players and it's a terrific overall experience for the players."