Gary Bettman discusses Senators, CBA talk at GM Meetings

Commissioner Gary Bettman discusses whether anything important came out of the GM Meetings in Boca Raton, says we’ve had another spectacular season, and everybody is “extraordinarily pleased with the state of the game.”

This year’s March GM Meetings have been fairly uneventful, with no major new rules being recommended. There will be some tweaks and as we heard Tuesday, player safety was at the forefront of a lot of the considerations, but as far as game-altering changes go, this meeting was rather quiet.

The biggest change the GMs are putting forth? Players who lose their helmets during play have to head to the bench and would no longer be allowed to participate in the play.

As the meetings wrap up, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spoke to the media and touched on a few topics even beyond what was discussed in Boca Raton. Bettman agreed that no one was looking for a major overhaul this year because the on-ice product the NHL offers is in a good place right now.

“We’re having a terrific season. Our competitive balance is extraordinary. The skills of our players and what takes place on the ice every night is just fantastic,” he said.

“But we don’t take anything for granted and that’s the reason we have those meetings. Hockey Operations is watching and reviewing every game as it’s being played looking for trends, looking for potential issues, so the three days with this group is a good time for reflection and on balance I think everybody is really extraordinarily pleased with the state of the game.”

Here are some of the other things the media asked Bettman about…

THE OTTAWA SENATORS AND OWNER EUGENE MELNYK

At the end of February, two days after the trade deadline, the mediation effort to help salvage the RendezVous LeBreton Flats proposal to get an arena built downtown fell apart. On Thursday, March 7 the National Capital Commission will hold a meeting to “finalize the elements of a new process for the future redevelopment of LeBreton Flats.”

Although Melnyk followed up that bad news with a statement saying he was determined to find alternate locations for a new arena and again committed to the long term in Ottawa, there is a very real crisis of consumer confidence within the fan base that was amplified after the sell-off of high-end players at the deadline.

It’s gotten so bad that some have wondered if Bettman and the NHL would step in to help the situation somehow, or if Melnyk might still try to move the Senators to a different city after seeming to threaten that once before.

The commissioner said he didn’t have any of these worries and was not involved in the goings-on in and around the Senators franchise.

“Major projects, the ebb and flow of team performance, is something that will change over time,” Bettman said. “I know Eugene Melnyk is very committed to the Senators and is very focused on looking for what he has to do and what his best options are under the circumstances.

“Teams go through ebbs and flows both on the ice and with their fan bases and Eugene Melnyk is doing what is expected of him as an owner in terms of meeting the team’s obligations and management, ownership for any franchise at any given point in time may think it’s time for a rebuild and that’s what has to be done. Teams go through cycles.

“I haven’t been asked to step in, but we’re always willing to help when appropriate and when asked.”

And as far as relocation goes, something the commissioner has been vehemently against in the past, he pointedly said he was not concerned about that happening with Ottawa “because there’s no reason to be.”

CBA TALKS

For as healthy as the on-ice product is these days, as we head down the home stretch of the regular season many fans are still concerned about a future work stoppage. If no new deal is struck, the NHL and PA can both choose to opt out of the current CBA in September, which would start a one year countdown to the official expiry of the deal. In that scenario, if no new CBA is agreed to, another lockout could take place in September of 2020.

As these negotiations continue, and although a 2020 World Cup has already been ruled out, Bettman maintained optimism that a work stoppage would not happen this time.

“The update is that we’ve described the state of our discussions, which you’ve heard Bill and I say previously are constructive and cordial. There’s nothing substantive to report, but I think all of us in this room believe that labour peace is important and we hope we can maintain it.”

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