Bettman on outdoor games, relo and IIHF

May, 28, 2010
05/28/10
6:50
PM ET

CHICAGO -- Two outdoor games next season and a promise of one in Washington, D.C., coming up; a trip to Russia for the NHL; a new Brendan Shanahan think tank; and a not-so-subtle shot across the bow of the IIHF highlighted NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's annual state-of-the-league address Friday.

Here is a look at some of the highlights:

• The commissioner rarely lets his emotions peek through when dealing with the media. But when asked about a recent story written by the top communications manager for the International Ice Hockey Federation, which slammed NHL players for not playing in the World Championships, Bettman became angered and offered a veiled threat that maybe the league and the players' association should revisit whether to take part in the tournament.

"At some point when we're engaged on really substantive issues with the players' association, I am certain that will be on the list of things we talk about," Bettman said.

He warned the IIHF it needs to pay more respect to the league and its players.

"I'm not happy with the way the IIHF somehow feels it has an entitlement to these great athletes who risk their careers and put themselves out of their own time without anything but love of country," Bettman said.

• It will be a busy fall for the NHL. It will send six teams to Europe for its annual Premiere Games, the league's across-the-pond, regular-season kickoff initiative now in its fourth year. For 2010-11, two of those teams will also play exhibition games against Kontinental Hockey League teams. Carolina will visit St. Petersburg on Oct. 4, and Phoenix will head to Riga, Latvia, for a game on Oct. 6.

It will mark the first time in 20 years that NHL teams will play on Russian soil, but Bettman said not to read too much into the exhibition games. The league has had a frosty relationship with the KHL, and there is no transfer agreement between the NHL and Russia.

"In terms of hockey interest and fan interest, while we were there [in Europe], we figured with all the games we're playing -- all the exhibition games -- if they wanted an exhibition game or two, we would do it," Bettman said. "But I wouldn't read too much into it other than the fact that you can conclude that we're not so mad at them that we never talk to them. But this doesn't signal a fundamental change in our relationship."

• Although it has been widely reported for weeks now, Friday marked the first time Bettman acknowledged there was the structure of a deal in place to take the Phoenix Coyotes to Winnipeg had the city of Glendale not come up with a deal to cover operation losses if a new owner can't be found in Arizona.

Canadian billionaire David Thomson and Mark Chipman, a Winnipeg businessman, are biding their time and waiting for a chance to return the NHL to Winnipeg.

"I'm not going to put a timeline on it because I do not want to raise expectations," Bettman said. "The interest is clear and bona fide, it's gratifying. The process by which they've been engaged with us is as good a process as they could be involved in."

Further, Bettman downgraded the possibility of a second team in the Toronto area. He said he'd like to see teams in Winnipeg and Quebec City first.

"I'd like to try and fix something that I wish might not have happened in the first place," Bettman said, referring to the movement of the Quebec Nordiques to Colorado and the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix. "Not unlike what we did in Minnesota."

• Along with confirming earlier reports that the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals will play in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh and a second outdoor game will be held in Calgary between the Flames and Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 20 at McMahon Stadium, Bettman also said Washington will host a Winter Classic event in the next two or three years.

• Former NHLer and current league executive Brendan Shanahan will be in charge of a new two-day research and development project to be held in Toronto in August. The two-day event will be held at the Toronto Maple Leafs' practice facility west of downtown Toronto and will examine potential rule changes and changes to equipment. Shanahan has also been tasked in coming up with some fresh ideas for the NHL All-Star Game, which will be held in January in Raleigh, N.C. Bettman acknowledged that the event could use a makeover.

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