PITTSBURGH -- If there was ever any shred of doubt that NHL players won't be in the Winter Olympics next February in South Korea, commissioner Gary Bettman officially closed that door fully here Monday.
Speaking prior to Game One of the Stanley Cup final, Bettman confirmed reports that the All-Star Game will be held in January in Tampa. The annual 3-on-3 tournament, which would not be played during an Olympic year, is scheduled for Jan. 27-28 in Amalie Arena. While rumors have continued to percolate that the International Ice Hockey Federation was interested in a last-ditch attempt to get the NHL into the Games, Bettman said the idea the issue was still open is false.
"It is not and has not been," said Bettman. "I hope that was definitive enough."
Bettman reaffirmed what he said at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles in January, that the owners' appetite for a three-week break in the season had waned after the league had gone to the Winter Games each time it had been held since 1998.
"We're not anti-Olympics, we're anti-disruption to the season," Bettman said.
The league confirmed its three outdoor games for next season, headlined by the Winter Classic between the Sabres and New York Rangers on Jan. 1 in Citi Field, the Queens home of the New York Mets.
"Why not the Sabres?" said a smiling Bettman, referencing the snow of Orchard Park and the 10th anniversary of the 2008 game as the reason to once again include the Sabres.
Also outdoors, the league will operate the NHL100 Classic Dec. 16 at Landsdowne Park in Ottawa between the Senators and Montreal Canadiens, and the annual Stadium Series game March 3 in Annapolis, Md., between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals. That will be played on the campus of the U.S. Naval Academy, and the league said it expects to have games at other service academies in future years, meaning the U.S. Military Academy in West Point and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs may be on deck.
The league also finalized preseason games in Shanghai and Beijing, China, on Sept 21 and 23, respectively between Los Angeles and Vancouver, as well as regular-season games Nov. 10-11 between Colorado and Ottawa in Stockholm, Sweden. Those will be the league's first European regular-season games since the Sabres took part in the 2011 Premiere Series by opening their season in Helsinki, Finland, and Berlin, Germany.
In other news from Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly:
--The league has decided to give the list of unprotected players to Las Vegas on Saturday June 17, a day earlier than planned. That will give the Golden Knights 72 hours to make their selections, which will be announced in conjunction with the NHL Awards June 21 in Las Vegas.
---The 2017-18 regular season schedule will be announced during draft week in Chicago, pegging the likely release date as Thursday, June 22. The draft in United Center is June 23-24. The top prospects have arrived in Buffalo for this week's NHL Scouting Combine, which culminates in physical testing Saturday in HarborCenter. That event is closed to the public.
---The salary cap for next season could stay flat at around $73 million or jump as high as $77 million if the players association agrees to its 5 percent inflator. Negotiations for that open this week.
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang scored the Cup-winning goal last year in Game Six at San Jose but has missed the entire playoffs this time due to neck surgery. Still, he has hardly been inactive. Pens coach Mike Sullivan said his veteran blueliner has been serving as a quasi eye in the sky during these playoffs with particular emphasis on the team's power play and his defense mates. He's working with former Pittsburgh defenseman Sergei Gonchar.
"Tanger is a great teammate. He really cares about this group," Sullivan said. "Even though he hasn’t played in a playoff game this year, he’s still every bit invested in this team and helping them win as he is when he’s in the lineup.
"They spend a lot of time together in putting their collective thoughts together that they bring down ... That’s just an indication of how invested Tanger is with this Penguins team, and how badly he wants to win."
It's the first Cup final pitting two American coaches and Predators coach Peter Laviolette is just the fourth man in history to bring three different teams to the final. He won with Carolina in 2006 (after beating the Sabres in the East final), and lost with Philadelphia to Chicago in 2010.
"Everybody’s excited to be here, managers, coaches, players, staff, organization, fan bases," he said. "This is why we do what we do all year, to get to this point, or to hope to get to this point, where you actually get an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup.
"For me, it means a lot. I mean, two of the most memorable points in my life, if you remove family, you just leave it in a professional business, will be two trips to the finals. One of them I’ll hold close to my heart, and one of them hurts. But that’s a great feeling, to be able to be here and to compete."