Gary Bettman Talks NHL Expansion, World Cup, Concussions & More

Gary BettmanNHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in a good mood for his state of the league news conference before Game 1 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday as he noted that the league was in the midst of arguably its most successful season ever.

“Thanks to our fans, we set records for attendance at our arenas and viewership on NBC,” Bettman said. “By any measure this may have been the most successful season on and off the ice in NHL history.”

There were a number of interesting topics discussed during the news conference, including possible expansion (involving Seattle, Quebec City and Las Vegas), concussion protocol and the return of the hockey World Cup.

Here’s what the commissioner had to say about those topics and more.

On the World Cup tournament…

“So, yes, it’s a great business opportunity, but it’s also an opportunity to expand our fan base, to continue the growth and development of the game, and encourage young people to play the game, and ultimately develop at a caliber where the best players in the world will come to play in the NHL.

“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.”

On the league’s participation at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea…

“First of all, it’s not my decision. Ultimately it’s up to the NHL Board of Governors to decide. As I indicated in the prior question, we haven’t given it any thought yet. I’m not even in a position to say what factor or not South Korea would be because it’s not something we’ve given any thought to yet.”

On concussions…

“In reverse order, concussions were down as a percentage, moderate to low double-digits as a percentage matter, and man games lost were probably about half of what we’ve seen recently. I think that’s a function of the concussion protocols working.

“We are serious about them, as is the Players’ Association. They’re being enforced. We are doing what is necessary to enforce the concussion protocols. If we think there’s been a violation, we follow up. If in an appropriate case there needs to be discipline imposed, we will do it. If we think we need to do more, speculation about independent spotters, that’s something we’ll discuss and do if necessary at the time.

“Part of what we’re going through is an education process for the players to, again, understand that it’s important that if they’re having symptoms, they let them be addressed.

“Obviously it’s difficult for us to get into a player’s head, no pun intended with this concussion discussion, but if a player is going to not follow the protocol, not say exactly what he’s feeling, that’s pretty difficult to address.”

On if there’s an update on the Islanders’ potential sale…

“No. The fact is, (owner) Charles Wang, who is the owner of the Islanders, is continuing to consider his options and decide what he wants to do.

“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. Until he does, none of us will know what the ownership situation will be.”

On staging outdoor games in warmer climates after success at Dodger Stadium…

“Without getting specific as to what the options may be, we learned a lot — all good — from playing in Dodger Stadium. That was a remarkable night. It was a great spectacle. The fans — and, as importantly, the players — had a really good time. Dan Craig does a great job of making ice. He told me the thousand times I asked him leading up to that it was going to be all right, the ice was going to be fine, and it was. So we have options to play in places that you wouldn’t necessarily think of. There are some places, though, as a matter of climate, that just won’t work at all. But we’ll have to deal with that by putting those teams on the road at some point.”

On possible expansion…

“We’re not planning on expanding. We’re not in an expansion mode or formal expansion process. We listen when people say, ‘We’d like to come visit you and tell you why we’re interested and where we’re interested.’

“Seattle, which seems to have the most number of people interested, the fact is there’s no building that’s on the horizon. The person who controls the rights to build a building in Seattle is intent upon having an NBA team before he builds a building. Based on what’s happened to date and the fact that his partner has now bought a different franchise, I don’t know that there’s any prospect of a building in Seattle.

“It’s nice that there’s interest, but there’s really not a whole lot for us to do with it.”

On the new arena under construction in Quebec City…

“There is. That would cause us to have yet another team in the East. I’m not even sure how we deal with it. I think if, in fact, we get to a point where there’s 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. I don’t think this is something you do on a piecemeal basis.”

On what the salary cap ceiling will be for the 2014-15 season…

“The estimates we started the season with were somewhere around 70s, low 70s. We said the fall in the Canadian dollar might impact that by a couple million dollars. We’re getting all the hard data financially from the season, but I don’t have a better estimate than the ones that have been out there for the last few months.”

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