NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spoke with hosts Gord Stellick and Kelly Hrudey on Hockey Night in Canada Radio on Sirius on Monday about a myriad of issues, starting with the impact of the league's new disciplinarian, Brendan Shanahan, has had thus far.
Multi-game suspensions to players such as James Wisniewski of the Columbus Blue Jackets are a result of Shanahan having a 'different toolbox' to work with, like the amendments made to the NHL's rules no. 41 (boarding) and 48 (illegal hits to the head) Bettman said.
"We're protecting heads better and that's important because concussions are a serious issue," he said.
The commissioner also addressed detractors who say the new rules will eliminate physical contact from the game.
"Nothing can be further from the truth," Bettman said. "We must have had 55,000 hits last year and each year for the last six years has been increasing dramatically. The game is more physical that it's ever been.
"We didn't pass a rule that said no head contact, we said no head hits."
New sheriff in town
Bettman also stressed that Shanahan is fully in charge of reviewing and assessing punishment.
"I don't get involved in supplemental discipline in that level, under the collective bargaining agreement any appeals come to me and as part of that process I stay out of it… it's [Shanahan's] decision."
Bettman also commented on Shanahan's conversation on CBC's The National with anchor Peter Mansbridge, where the league's head disciplinarian said that the league will be looking into hockey fights.
"I don't think what Brendan said is exactly what he meant," Bettman said. "We all know that fighting is part of the game, albeit a small part of the game … we're constantly looking at all aspects of the game … and I raised it at the last general managers meeting.
"With all of the attention concussions is getting, with all of the changes hits to the head are getting – there's no question that at some point the discussion will be had on fighting, but as we sit here today, it's not a front-burner issue.
"We don't make change for the sake of making change and I think over the past two years we have been very responsive to the evolution of the game, as it relates to concussions — both to rule changes and equipment and respect to how we treat, handle and diagnose concussions."
The next thing the league will turn their attention to, Bettman said, is the equipment worn by players. That includes the ever-growing size and composition of elbow and shoulder pads, which some say may have helped increase injuries to players on the other end of hits.
Another topic raised in the interview was if there was any thought to examining or re-working the current playoff format, perhaps increasing the number of teams that gain entry into the post-season.
"We like what we have and that's emphasized by how the great regular season is," Bettman said. "Every game counts – [if] you lose a game in October and November, that could be a point or two you don’t have that you may need [in April]."
Return flight to Winnipeg for Jets
Bettman is also looking forward to attending to the Winnipeg Jets' first regular season home game on Sunday, and was asked about the process of relocating the team from Atlanta.
"We avoid moving unless you absolutely have to, but the opportunity to go to Winnipeg, it gave us a new lease on life there … it's going to be terrific and we're delighted to be back."
But as for any more teams that may be on the move, Bettman said the Thrashers' exodus from Atlanta was only because there were no owners willing to keep the team in Georgia and just because there is success in Winnipeg doesn't mean the league will abandon any struggling franchises.
"If a market expires, for a lack of a better term, then we look at our options and there is no shortage of options both north and south of the 49th parallel," Bettman said. "But the fact of the matter is we're going to try and make things work where we currently have our franchises because we owe that to our fans everywhere to let our fans know that we will stick by you for as long as possible."