BUFFALO, N.Y. — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman downplayed the significance of entering mediation with former players in a bid to settle a concussion lawsuit, saying Tuesday the league is simply following a judge’s order.
"The judge asked us to go into mediation and so we’re complying with the judge’s request," Bettman told The Associated Press.
He said he had nothing to add when asked if there has been progress, and Bettman reiterated the NHL’s position on the lawsuit hasn’t changed, by saying: "We also think the lawsuit doesn’t have merit."
Bettman spoke to the AP while attending the NHL officials training camp in Buffalo, New York.
Stuart Davidson, one of the attorneys representing the players, disputed Bettman’s assertion on the merits of the lawsuit, while confirming the two sides were asked to enter mediation by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson in Minnesota.
"While we obviously disagree with the Commissioner’s views on the merits of these important cases, and continue to work very hard to obtain justice for our clients, the commissioner is correct that Judge Nelson requested that the parties try to work out their differences with a mediator, if they are able," Davidson wrote in an email.
More than 100 former players are part of the lawsuit in accusing the NHL of failing to better prevent head trauma or warn players of such risks while promoting violent play that led to their injuries.
In July, Nelson denied a bid for class-action status, which would have created one group of all living former NHL players and one group of all retired players diagnosed with a neurological disease, disorder or condition. Had they succeeded, more than 5,000 former players would have been allowed to join the case.
On another matter, Bettman said the league’s board of governors meeting in December is the earliest the NHL will have an opportunity to approve a bid to expand into Seattle. The vote will take place after the expansion group meets with the league’s executive committee on Oct. 2.
Bettman would only say "to be determined" when asked if the Seattle bid, which would expand the NHL to 32 teams, is on track for the 2020-21 season.