From Hockey News
It was a relatively uneventful press conference for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman Saturday in the hours leading up to the NHL All-Star Skills Competition in Nashville. The league unveiled a new website, the 2017 All-Star Game host and a particularly special charity donation. Other than that, Bettman more or less played tennis with reporters on site, batting down questions about expansion and John Scott, among others.
The biggest announcement of the day: it’s not like it was a secret, but it’s now official that Los Angeles will host the 2017 All-Star Game. It’s a year of anniversaries, not only the NHL’s 100th, but also the Kings’ 50th, so L.A.’s Staples Center made sense as the next host. Bettman foreshadowed “lots of centennial events in the U.S. and Canada” throughout next season.
Speaking of centennial, the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate their 100th in 2016-17, too. Does that mean a Winter Classic for the Big Smoke? Still too early to tell. Bettman said the decision hasn’t been made yet.
Another significant reveal: The league will match the Boston Bruins’ $200,000 donation to injured NWHL player Denna Laing, who suffered a significant spinal injury at the Women’s Outdoor Classic. Two of the NHL’s partners, Honda and Ticketmaster, will also donate a 2016 Honda Odyssey retrofitted to meet her special medical requirements.
It was inevitable Bettman would face questions about John Scott’s All-Star Game participation after the hoopla caused by Scott’s Players’ Tribune article, but there were no bombshells to drop.
“When John Scott won the popular vote, we announced him as the captain, and there were a number of discussions within NHL personnel or Coyotes personnel about whether or not he wanted to come,” Bettman said. “This was a campaign that was created. Maybe it was aimed at the league, maybe it was aimed at the All-Star Game, maybe it was aimed at John Scott. But he had a decision to make: did he want to be here?”
Bettman maintained his assertion that Scott was welcomed to the game the minute he decided he wanted to participate, that it was a “closed issue.”
And, really, we’ll never know whether there was a conspiracy to trade Scott and demote him. We can only speculate. Bettman didn’t budge when asked to reveal the identity of the NHL staffer who Scott claimed asked him if his children would be proud of him for participating. Bettman also said the league has not yet discussed any plan to change the All-Star Game voting process.
Expansion was an obvious hot topic Saturday. Not that the league had any significant updates to announce, however.
“The executive committee, which is the group of owners charged with making a study and going through the process and ultimately making the recommendation to the board of governors, met two weeks ago,” Bettman said. “The process is continuing, and we’re not ready to make a recommendation. That’s something for the next few months, and that recommendation can be no expansion, one team or two teams.”
The two teams currently under consideration remain Las Vegas and Quebec City. The question of Seattle was raised but quickly swatted down by Bettman, who maintains Seattle is a low priority unless the bid promises a new arena with proper hockey functionality.
“As things stand right now, there’s no prospect in the foreseeable future of a new arena in greater Seattle,” Bettman said. “It is what is is. And, frankly, right now, we’re focused on Quebec City and Las Vegas. So that’s not even on our radar screen.”
Bettman added that 2017-18 is the earliest possible expansion date for any potential franchise.
“Whatever we do, the clubs need at least a full year of figuring out how to manage their rosters and deal with the requirements of the expansion draft,” Bettman said. “So as there’s at least a year of lead time, we could make 2017-18.”
There’s no update on potential NHL Olympic participation in Pyeongchang, South Korea for 2018, either. Bettman said the NHL met with the IIHF a few months ago and was told it had a year to decide whether to send its players. The IIHF also has to work out potential expenses such as transportation and insurance for the players.
The afternoon presser also kicked off with the announcement the NHL, in partnership with Major League Baseball, is full steam ahead with a revamped NHL.com website plus an NHL app. The former will launch Sunday night, the latter Monday morning. Previews of the site revealed a clean white look, and the site and app are both geared to letting users customize their experience around their favorite teams. The opinion in this corner: the app will function a lot more like The Score’s, which is a good thing.
With the presser in the books, let’s bring on the actual hockey. The most memorable on-ice All-Star experience in many years is upon us.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin