NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman Gives State Of The League Address, Talks Concussions, Coyotes, All-Star Game

RALEIGH -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman held a press conference prior to Saturday night's NHL All-Star SuperSkills Competition to update the media and fans on the current state of the League.

He covered a wide range of topics in his 30 minute talk with reporters, including Carolina's long wait for this weekend's All-Star festivities, debate on concussions in the sport the ongoing situation with the Phoenix Coyotes. Here's a quick overview with some select quotes.

The big news was on the concussion front. In his prepared remarks, Bettman spoke about the rise in concussions over the last year, while stressing that their studies are only preliminary. 

"For the 2010-11 regular season, concussions are up, he said. "Again, I want to emphasize it's preliminary. The increase in concussions appears to be in the area of accidental or inadvertent situations as most did not involve any contact whatsoever with the victim's head by an opponent."

What's he mean by that? Most of the concussions in the last year came by players falling and hitting their head on the ice after clean body checks or by players getting struck in the head by pucks. Basically, the whole point he was trying to convey is that Rule 48, which was implemented in the off season to eliminate blindside head shots, has worked, despite the fact that concussions seem to be up.

To that end, Bettman said...

So with regard to head hits, since the implementation of Rule 48 last March, that's the blindside lateral head hit rule, we've seen a decrease in concussions and man games lost resulting from blindside hits to the head.

In addition, we have seen a decrease in concussions caused by hits involving the head that are deemed legal in our game. With respect to hits to the body, this year we have seen an increase in concussions from hits to the body that have resulted in the head having secondary contact with the glass, boards or ice.

With regard to fighting, the number of concussions and man games lost due to fighting has increased. And finally, with regard to accidental or inadvertent collisions, the number of concussions caused by accidental plays on the ice and inadvertent collisions with an opponent has more than doubled year to year and has resulted in a threefold increase in man games lost.           

Again, this is preliminary. Some of it is judgmental. Some of it is definitional, but we think on a preliminary basis this is the way things are trending. 

So what's the NHL's thought process moving forward as they try to eliminate concussions?

"The point I wanted to convey is it's easy to say the league needs to do X, Y and Z on concussions," he said. "It's not that simple. Changing a rule which doesn't address what's actually causing the concussions may not be the right thing to do. Changing equipment may not necessarily be the right thing to do."   

"We spend a lot of effort on this subject. We know it's important. But we need to be very professional, smart, thorough, in dealing with it. It's not susceptible to a snap judgment.  Having said that, that's the process we used last year when we enacted Rule 48. That appears to be working."

"It was after doing all the homework, having been very analytical, using the expertise of the general managers, most of whom were former players, we were able to craft a rule that made sense, was enforceable, and those types of concussions being caused from blindsides are actually down."

Bettman added that it's important that the NHL doesn't step over the line since the physical aspect of the game is so vital to it. At the end of his concussion talk, the lingering thought is, "damn, would another commissioner come out and say that concussions are up in a press conference setting like that?" Hard to imagine Roger Goodell doing that.

A few other subjects of note...

Bettman on the ongoing ownership situation in Phoenix:

The city of Glendale is working towards a sale of the bonds necessary to complete the transaction. There was no deadline of December 31st. As of December 31st, we have had and do have the option of pursuing alternatives. We're not doing that yet because it appears that everything is on track. And any reports to the contrary are absolutely baseless and without foundation.

From everything we're hearing, from the entities handling the bond sale from the city of Glendale, from Mr. Hulsizer's people, is things are on track and they're hoping in the next couple of weeks or so things will be resolved and the franchise will close. 

On ownership in Dallas and Buffalo:

Dallas, everybody's well chronicled the difficulties that ownership has had. The league is not -- I repeat, not --funding the club. There's an orderly sales process underway with probably half a dozen interested parties. Tony Tavares has been installed to keep things operationally sound, helping the sales process and make sure that the franchise continues to conduct business in a first?class way in the ordinary course.

Buffalo, Terry Pegula, who has expressed, obviously, an interest in buying that franchise, was interviewed today by the Executive Committee, but this process and this transaction are not yet near being done. No votes were taken. This was just a preliminary step.

And on Winnipeg's long, impatient wait for NHL hockey to return.

I know it would satisfy everybody's sense of finality to announce a drop?dead date. As long as the process is holding together in a time frame that we can deal with, schedule and the like, we're going to hang in there. If it becomes clear that the train is off the rails or that the train isn't getting to the station anytime soon, then we'll have to reevaluate our position. But we're not going to by a matter of a day or two just simply make an artificial date.           

We'll hang in there as long as it makes sense and as long as we can. But time is getting short. Make no mistake about that. This is not something that is of infinite duration. I have tried to be as careful as I could be not to raise expectations in Winnipeg.

Everybody knows my view on that. If we have to move a club, it would be good to go back to a place that we were once in that has a different situation, vis-a-vis building and ownership and the like.

But, you know, it's one of the reasons we get concerned. We think it's unfair when baseless stories come out suggesting things that aren't true to get people in Winnipeg all excited. If there's something to announce, I promise we'll announce it.

Some more points not worth a whole quote box:

- Bettman said that the Winter Classic and Heritage Classic for 2012 have not been set at all yet and that any speculation on that front is just that -- speculation. "You're making judgments that we haven't made yet," he said.

- The Commissioner hopes that it'll be easier to negotiate with NBC and Versus once they're owned by the same company, and that negotiations on a new American TV contract will begin shortly.

- Finally, Bettman emphasized that there's a lot of time left between now and the end of the current collective bargaining agreement in 2012, and that if anybody wants to write that story, they should focus on other leagues (the NFL and NBA, of course) before talking about those issues with the NHL and NHLPA. 

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