NHL commissioner Bettman on goalie interference, international hockey, Seattle

Gary Bettman spoke ahead of the NHL All-Star Skills Competition and touched on hot topics such as expansion to Seattle and the ongoing controversy surrounding goaltender interference penalties.

TAMPA, Fla. – The NHL is asking its officials to loosen up their interpretation of goaltender interference when using video review.

That message came out of an emergency meeting conducted by NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell before Saturday’s skills competition. He brought together the four general managers and four coaches in Tampa for all-star weekend along with director of officiating Stephen Walkom, referees Dave Jackson and Wes McCauley, and members of the hockey operations department, to review some recent issues with the coach’s challenge.

Gary Bettman and Bill Daly were also in attendance, and the NHL commissioner said the group determined that officials may be looking too closely for evidence of goaltender interference when looking at video replay.

“Overall the system works, but I think we’ve gotten to the point where everybody’s overthinking the review,” said Bettman. “The intention, particularly on goaltender interference, is did you miss something? I think the consensus of the meeting was really more we need to give a refresher – and we’re going to send a memo to the officials: ‘Take a quick look, but don’t search it to death.’

“The presumption should be the call on the ice was good unless you have a good reason to overturn it. And you shouldn’t have to search for a good reason.”

The issue drew increased attention this week because Toronto centre Auston Matthews had a goal called back on a ticky-tacky review for hitting the blocker of Colorado’s Jonathan Bernier while sweeping the puck into the net. Three nights later, Edmonton saw an overtime winner wiped out because Connor McDavid’s skate hit the stick of Flames goalie David Rittich before it was scored.

At this point there doesn’t seem to be an appetite for a larger-scale change to how the coach’s challenge works. The final call currently lies with the referee, who consults with the situation room in Toronto while watching replays on a goaltender interference review.

Campbell discussed the issue with Leafs president Brendan Shanahan on Saturday afternoon before convening the larger meeting at Amalie Arena.

“I think what happens is that … goalie interference is a little bit of a judgement call,” said Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz. “So there is a little bit of grey area. I think we live in a society now with all the cameras and the replays and the slow-mo’s that we want just black and white, and the goalie interference I don’t think is black and white.

“I think the league is doing the best to clarify every situation.”

That now includes publicly instructing officials in-season to call these situations differently, which is not something that happens too often.

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association continue to share the desire to establish a long-term plan for international hockey. But they haven’t reached agreement on what it should look like.

Bettman did unveil plans for games in Europe next season – Edmonton and New Jersey will open their regular season in Sweden, after the Oilers play an exhibition in Germany and the Devils play an exhibition in Switzerland, while Winnipeg and Florida will play two November games in Helsinki – but couldn’t share the details for games in China.

Sources indicate that the Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins are being considered for two exhibitions there in September, but the NHL and NHLPA are still finalizing some logistical details.

“We need to make sure as we go through this process that both sides are comfortable with all the details,” said Bettman. “Rather than rush things or even announce something unilaterally, we want to make sure our partners and we are in sync.”

They appear to be a long way off any potential agreement on when another World Cup will be held and if NHL players will be allowed to return to the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.

Asked if it would be strange to play games in China but not attend a Games in that country, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr smirked: “I don’t think that question needs an answer. You answered it and you stated it. It would be odd, for sure.”

The biggest issue with the next World Cup is the possibility that the collective bargaining agreement could expire in September 2020 – the natural place to hold it, four years after the previous one. Fehr mentioned February 2020 as another possibility.

“I think we’d all like to get another World Cup scheduled because the last one in Toronto was so successful,” said Bettman.

The Jets-Panthers games in Helsinki will see two of Finland’s most popular players come home: Patrik Laine and Aleksander Barkov.

While reviewing the option to play overseas, Jets chairman Mark Chipman said the organization consulted with Ottawa and Colorado – teams that played two games in Sweden this season.

“I think it’ll be great,” said Chipman. “[We] just kind of talked about it in terms of the travel, schedule, how for it not to be punitive in terms of throwing the rest of the schedule off balance and those kinds of considerations. But the league was really accommodating in that respect.

“Everyone seemed to really have a good time. Both teams reported that it was a good experience.”

Good news for the future general manager of the NHL team in Seattle: You’re going to get the same expansion draft rules afforded to George McPhee when he constructed the Vegas Golden Knights.

“I have no doubt that if there’s going to be another expansion team they are going to insist on having the same expansion rules,” said Bettman. “I think that’s crystal clear. I think George McPhee did an outstanding job of using the rules. We knew the team would be better – the goal was to make the team competitive at its inception – and there’s a great mix of talent that’s bonded very well.”

That’s what paying top dollar for a franchise gets you.

Rival teams were given more restrictive protection rules last year after Vegas paid $500-million to join the club. The NHL’s 32nd team – almost certain to be Seattle – will have to fork over $650-million.

The Oak View Group, which is overhauling Key Arena in Seattle, is hoping to formally submit its expansion application in the next week or two. A campaign for season-ticket deposits is expected to be launched in February.

Bettman indicated that the NHL has no timeline for when it might award Seattle a franchise.

“The timetable in terms of filing an expansion application, doing a season-ticket drive, is largely up to them,” he said. “We can respond to the extent that we’re getting the information we need on a timely basis – whatever that timetable is – so that we can go through the processes that we have. So when you next ask me ‘what are the attributes of Seattle?’ hopefully we’ll have done enough homework if this is moving forward to be able to answer that question.”

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