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Volume 24 No. 158
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NHL Seeks Balance Between Excitement, Player Safety With Lawsuits Pending

These are "good times in the NHL but lurking behind the scenes is the spectre of violence and how it could ruin the work done by commissioner Gary Bettman," according to Gary Lawless of the WINNIPEG FREE PRESS. Lawsuits "are pending and while Bettman zipped the lips of his governors on the subject, it's clear they understand the league must find a way [to] balance the violence it sells and the player safety it needs to promote." The league's biggest issue is "how to keep the game physical and exciting while protecting the health of its players." Bettman said, "We updated the board last meeting in thorough detail on all the efforts we've done over the years on concussions and all player safety. I think the board is extraordinarily comfortable with what's going on. Based on all the things we do in terms of diagnosis, return to play, decisions and the like we are doing the right things for the players and the game." Bettman "understands the predicament" the league is in and how it must "continually strive to curb the violence in the game, which is both dangerous and grounds for civil actions." Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said that there is "now an appetite amongst league executives to lengthen suspensions to eliminate, hopefully, the violence no one wants in the game" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 12/11).

COME TOGETHER: QMI AGENCY's Chris Stevenson noted one "encouraging development in the relationship between owners and players is a greater level of cooperation in tackling issues of mutual interest." There are "nine owner-player committees now," which along with "stability in union leadership, might mean better lines of communication for future labour negotiations." Bettman said of the NHLPA, "We went through a period where we had five different executive directors of the union in a relatively brief period of time. There is stability now in the union and that is a positive, not just for the players and the union, that’s a positive for us because you can’t build a strong working relationship based on trust when the cast of characters is changing every few months" (QMI AGENCY, 12/10).

TRAVEL ITINERARY: The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek notes the NHL BOG spent much of yesterday receiving updates "on logistics relating to the NHL’s participation in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and ongoing talks with the players’ association about possibly reviving the World Cup, perhaps as early as 2016." Bettman indicated that "no decision about the 2018 Olympics in South Korea would be made until after the league evaluates the Sochi experience; and that ultimately, NHL participation may hinge on where it goes next with its international initiatives." The belief is that the NHL "would prefer to drop out of the Olympics, where they have limited input, and instead deal with the players’ collective appetite for a best-on-best competition with a World Cup, where they incidentally could control all the parameters and bank all the profits" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/11).

MASTERS OF THE ELEMENTS: The GLOBE & MAIL's David Ebner notes some skeptics have "moaned about the proliferation of outdoor games, but the contests are being embraced by fans and marketers," as sponsors "pour money into the games, and tickets sell fast." This is "the business of the NHL operating with more oomph than it’s ever had before." The outdoor games are "part of the reason next year’s salary cap is shooting up" by around US$6M. Ebner: "Expect more, not fewer, outdoor games on the long NHL calendar in the year ahead, tied, of course, with special television programming." NHL COO John Collins acknowledged that the regular season "is a long grind and the six outdoor games add needed spice," while the TV shows -- "with their NFL Films style -- brings people closer" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/11).