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NHL enters into three-year Awards deal with Vegas

by Dan Rosen
OTTAWA -- The National Hockey League is bringing its annual Awards Show back to Las Vegas for at least three more years.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Saturday morning after the Board of Governors meeting at the Fairmount Hotel that the League has signed a new three-year partnership with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor's Authority. The 2012 NHL Awards Show is scheduled to take place at the Encore Theater in the Wynn Las Vegas Hotel and Casino Resort on June 20.

"As part of this extended partnership, we will stage a variety of new events around the city of Las Vegas," Bettman said.

The League said in a press release that details about the expanded program surrounding the 2012 NHL Awards will be announced in the coming months.

"Las Vegas is excited to welcome the NHL Awards back to the destination," said Rossi Ralenkotter, president/CEO of the LVCVA. "We have enjoyed a great partnership, and we look forward to providing another great experience for the League, the players and, of course, the fans."

Marilyn Spiegel, who serves as President of the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Theater, expressed her excitement as well.

"We are pleased to be the host resort for the 2012 NHL Awards at Wynn Las Vegas and look forward to partnering with the League and the LVCVA to bring one of hockey's most exciting nights to Las Vegas," she said in a statement. "We look forward to welcoming the NHL's biggest names to Wynn Las Vegas and celebrating the best in professional hockey."

Optimism about sale of Blues: Current Blues minority owner Tom Stillman is spearheading a group that has entered into a purchase agreement to buy the team, and Bettman said all indications are that the process is moving along in a positive manner. He said it will still take time to complete the purchase and get approval from the Board of Governors, but things are looking good.

"I spoke to Tom last Wednesday or Thursday and he believes things are on track," Bettman said. "Based on the pulse that we're taking with the transaction and the things that need to be done…we think it's on a timely track. Based on everything we're hearing this should be a go.

"Tom is putting together a group of a number of distinguished people in St. Louis, and if it all comes together we think fans of the Blues have reason to be very comfortable and excited about the future of the club."

Status quo in Phoenix: Bettman also updated the situation regarding the current state of the Phoenix Coyotes and the NHL's pursuit of a new local owner in the Glendale region.

"Phoenix remains a work in progress," Bettman said. "There is a third party looking at the club. We haven't set any timetable yet."

Bettman said the League has not entered into any discussions with the City of Glendale for next season and that the hope is to have a sale in place by the end of this season. He did not want to hold a public discussion on the cost of the team, but said price is not what is holding back the NHL from selling the team to a local buyer.

He also said there is no reason at this point to discuss a Plan B, which could involve relocation of the team.

"We don't like moving franchises," Bettman said. "It has taken a long time (to get a deal done with the Coyotes) A) because it's fairly complicated and B) a lot of damage was done in the process where we had to assume control of the club. At some point we may have to conclude it's not solvable, but we're not at that point yet."

Bettman later added that the League is not considering any expansion at the present time.

Concussion talk: The NHL's medical experts gave a lecture to the Board of Governors about concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, otherwise known as CTE, which is considered a degenerative disease found in people who have had multiple concussions or other forms of head injuries.

He said it was important for the Governors to learn more about CTE because of the attention it has received in the sports world.

Bettman also said that the number of concussions is up in the NHL this season, but the League's medical experts believe there are several reasons for that, "including the fact that we are much better at diagnosing and treating them much more conservatively."

Bettman added that the culture around the sport of hockey has changed as the players have become much more aware of concussions, more knowledgeable about the long-term and short-term effects of head injuries, and more comfortable with acknowledging the presence of symptoms.

"The combination with everything we're doing with rule changes, equipment, reporting diagnosis -- everything is intended to make sure that, while there are concussions, we're doing a better job treating them and better job diagnosing them," Bettman said.  "Obviously we remain concerned about injuries. We remain focused on possible rule and equipment changes. We will continue to be vigilant on behalf of the game and we're going to continue to focus on the important priorities for our game making sure our players are competitive and safe as possible."

Bettman also gave another public vote of confidence and support to the job being done by the NHL's Department of Player Safety, led by Senior Vice President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations Brendan Shanahan.

"We think we're starting to see the results that we sought to achieve," Bettman said. "Keep in mind we've made some pretty fundamental changes in the rules and it's only been roughly four months. We will still see on-ice actions that will need to be addressed, but we do see examples on a nightly basis of players showing respect for opponents, for the sport, and reducing the instances of predatory hits."

Schedule trumps re-alignment: Bettman said the NHL is not focused on filing a grievance against the NHL Players' Association for not approving the re-alignment plan that was approved by the Board of Governors in December.

"When we were doing the re-alignment plan in late December, we were already late on doing the schedule for next year," Bettman said. "The Players' Association, while not entitled to negotiate on re-alignment, was entitled to approve or not approve as long as a not approval was not unreasonable. We said to the Players' Association we'll delay things yet another month in an attempt to make sure you're comfortable. In the course of that month we couldn't get them to be comfortable for whatever reason and we had to move on.

"Our focus was to be as non-confrontational as possible. So, while we still have the option of filing a grievance, it's not anything we're focused on right now."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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