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Commissioner Bettman says everything is awesome

NASHVILLE – The NHL is thrilled to have John Scott at one of its showcase events, replay challenges are going great and there are no struggles going on with the expansion process as it relates to Las Vegas and Quebec City. Seriously.

That was word from Commissioner Gary Bettman here Saturday at his annual All-Star media session. It’s a presidential election year and Bettman was in rare form with his deny-deny-deny routine.

Bettman confirmed what Scott told reporters here Friday, that he has welcomed the former Arizona enforcer and current minor leaguer to the game. Of course, Scott wrote in the Players Tribune on Thursday that an NHL official prodded him to pull out by asking, “Do you think this is something your kids would be proud of?”

“I’m not going to get into who said what,” said Bettman, who refused to address that assertion. “Those discussions are not particularly relevant because he made the decision to be here and we’re all good with that. He knows from me because he told you that we’re delighted to have him here and we want him to enjoy this weekend.”

Bettman said the league has yet to discuss changes to the voting process, but look for those to come.

“This was a campaign that was created,” Bettman said. “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? Once he decided to take everything into account that he wanted to be here, it was a closed issue from our standpoint.”

On replay, Bettman said things will be studied after the season. So that means don’t expect any changes for the playoffs. He did admit offside challenges need more camera help than just what’s being given by broadcasts and the league is testing more blueline cameras here this weekend.

“I’ve heard some people say, “Well, if you’re only offside by a couple of inches.’ Well, that’s what the rule says. That’s more black and white. How we deal with that is something we’ll continue to look at.”

Bettman answered several questions on expansion from reporters based in both Las Vegas and Quebec. The Board of Governors meeting held here Saturday made no recommendations. It’s possible there could be a solution when the Board meets in Buffalo in June as part of NHL Draft weekend.

Bettman said the league could expand by one, two or no teams. And there needs to be one year of lead time. So we’re starting to run out of time for 2017-18. If that’s the case, the league would simply move expansion to 2018-19. And the NHL is not accepting any more applications, so Seattle is out for now.

“We’re going through an orderly process. This is a very important decision,” Bettman said. “Lots of things have to be evaluated and considered. … We’re not running a 60-minute game here where the clocks run out. We get to do this in as deliberate a fashion as the Board of Governors ultimately decide to.”

Specifically, the league will need to figure out where new teams would be placed in the Entry Draft, the rules of an expansion draft and the need for realignment if Quebec enters the league as a 17th Eastern-based club.

In other news from Bettman:

• The league will release its new digital products Monday night, with a retooled and NHL app and a new streaming service dubbed “NHL.TV” to replace the current GameCenter Live. Fans will also be able to buy a new “NHL premium” stream for $2.99 a month that will show the final five minutes of regulation plus overtime and shootout for all games.

• Next year’s All-Star Game will be at Staples Center in Los Angeles as part of the Kings’ 50th anniversary. Next year will also be the 100th anniversary for the league and the Toronto Maple Leafs, the 125th for the Stanley Cup and the 150th for Canada.

“We are going to have an extensive centennial celebration,” said Bettman, who noted the league will have more details in the coming months.

• The league is donating $200,000 and corporate partners Honda and Ticketmaster are donating a 2016 retrofitted Honda to assist Denna Laing in her rehabilitation. Laing is the Boston player who suffered a severe spinal injury in the Women’s Winter Classic on New Year’s Eve in Gillette Stadium.

Kane downplaying big talk

Jamie Benn won the scoring title last year with 87 points. Patrick Kane hit the break this year with 73 already – and a 15-point lead on Benn, seemingly comfortable on the way to his first Art Ross Trophy as the first American scoring champion in NHL history. At 30 goals, Kane’s next one will mark a career high and put him on the road to 50.

“He’s been the best in the league,” Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said here Friday. “No doubt. He’s the MVP.”

But Kane is downplaying such talk at this point. It was building last year until he missed 20 games with the broken collarbone he suffered in a February game against Florida.

“I don’t want to look too far ahead or shed any light on what could be in the future,” Kane said on Media Day. “I take the game-by-game approach. We all saw last year. I was thinking about the Art Ross as something that could happen. I went down and never really had that chance. I’m enjoying this right now, not trying to think too far ahead. But at the same time I want to play my best every game.”

One thing really helping Kane this year is having linemates Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin. When he got to training camp in September, there was no way for Kane to know who he would be playing with in the new-look Chicago lineup. It couldn’t have worked any better for him. Kane admitted to this corner Friday he often wished coach Joel Quenneville would put him together with Jonathan Toews, but the Hawks coach has never really gone to that duo except in dire times in the playoffs.

But Kane said this trio has gone better than he could have imagined.

“You acquire a guy like Anisimov, a big left-handed center who’s good on faceoffs, battles hard to win pucks. It’s really a perfect centerman for me,” he said. “He plays similar to Jonny as well. You look at Panarin and I’ve done well with players like that, maybe guys like Kris Versteeg and Patrick Sharp who have skill and offensive ability. Panarin is unbelievable playing a puck possession game and great on his edges where he can spin, turn, keep the puck and lose his defenders. … He had plenty of dangles out there at camp where he was making the defense look silly.”

Lindy looking for offense

Ruff knows plenty of folks will be watching his Stars in the second half to see how they hold up. They were the best team in the league almost to Christmas but have been passed by the Blackhawks after posting just three wins in their last 12 games.

“Our lack of scoring and energy really did come all of a sudden when we played seven games in 11 days,” Ruff told me here Friday. “We had a pretty good schedule up to that point. All the way up to Christmas we were playing almost every other day, not many back to backs so energy was good. We chose not to practice a lot of days to catch up and our game kind of deteriorated.”

Specifically, the Stars aren’t scoring nearly as much. Tyler Seguin (25-28-53) has just three points in the last 11 games while Benn (28-30-58) has four goals and six points in the same stretch.

“Tyler has struggled,” Ruff said. “Jamie is still scoring a little but they haven’t dominated near as much as they were in the first 35. They went through little stretches last year that it took 5-6 games to get out of. When they start hitting the back of the net again, it gets easier to win.”

Ruff knows that his team will never really be considered a threat until it shows it can beat Chicago consistently. A 4-0 win Dec. 22 in American Airlines Center was a great sign in his mind. The teams still have four meetings left.

“Until you can beat them in a series or beat them to that shiny silver thing at the end, they’re still the best,” Ruff said. “They’re real comfortable playing a tight game, when they’re winning 2-1 or 2-0. That’s something that our team still has to wrap its arms around.”

Around the boards

• The Canadiens didn’t sack coach Michel Therrien after back-to-back losses last week to the Blue Jackets. Let’s see what happens this week as they open with a back-to-back Tuesday in Philadelphia and Wednesday in the Bell Centre vs. the Sabres. The surliness of the home crowd – especially if Buffalo gets a lead – will be interesting to watch.

• The Leafs are unveiling their new logo Tuesday night and are expected to have new sweaters for their 2016-17 centennial season. It will be interesting to watch the reaction. Rarely does a long-established team mess with their logo or uniforms other than subtle changes.

• Sharks center Joe Thornton became the 33rd player in NHL history reach 1,300 points with an assist on a Joe Pavelski goal on Tuesday against the Kings. Thornton, who is second on the active list to Jaromir Jagr, has 1,300 points in 1,333 career games with the Bruins and Sharks, totaling 367 goals and 933 asssists. Next on the all-time list? No. 32 is Gilbert Perreault at 1,326.


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