NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman talks about next season, the Olympics and referees
In addition to fielding a flurry of questions Monday about the sexual misconduct case involving the Blackhawks, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Senior Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly addressed other issues.
• Bettman expects a return to an 82-game schedule with season openers scheduled for Oct. 10-15. The complete schedule will be released between the end of the Stanley Cup Final and the start of the draft July 23 and 24).
• St. Louis and Minnesota will square off in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 in Minneapolis. Nashville will host Tampa Bay in a Stadium Series game at Nissan Stadium Feb. 26 in Nashville. A Heritage Classic outdoor game will be played in March in Canada, with teams to be announced.
• The Seattle Kraken, the league's 32nd franchise, will be in the Pacific Division. The Arizona Coyotes will move to the Central Division.
Several times Bettman and Daly sounded an ominous tone when asked if NHL players will participate in the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing.
The NHL told the Players Association it would go to the Olympics, but only if the conditions were right and all traveling issues could be worked out. Daly said with the continued uncertainty with the coronavirus, this may "not necessarily be an ideal Games to elect to go to."
Daly later added: "There are COVID-related insurance issues that are very important to all the relevant parties. ... We have worked through a lot of the more basic issues. We continue in unchartered territory to a certain extent with respect to COVID, what that means and what it'll be like come February in Beijing. There's a lot of unknowns we're trying to grapple with, and that takes time."
The league likely must make a decision by mid-July in order to complete its own schedule.
Complaints about officiating during the Stanley Cup playoffs prompted Bettman to defend the league's referees. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy was fined $25,000 on June 8 for his remarks during Boston's series against the Islanders. "The exact calls that get called on us do not get called on them, and I don't know why," Cassidy said.
Bettman has no patience for such talk and began his defense by saying NHL refs "are the best officials in any sport" and they have the toughest sport to call due to the "speed and split-second reaction time required to make -- or not make -- hundreds of calls in real time."
One reporter pressed Bettman, asking why officials miss calls that seem so obvious to fans in the stands or reporters in the press box.
"It's very easy to focus on the two or three calls you think they missed -- and it's easier for you to see it based on the vantage point you have," Bettman said. "Try going on the ice and being in the midst of everything that's going on and making split-second calls. It's extraordinarily difficult."
Bettman noted the league has added a second referee and increased video replay.
"We don't like it when (they miss calls)," he said. "In fact, we hate it. But it is the nature of the human element of calling our game. ... Officials are constantly coached and critiqued and held accountable."
• Even with sports betting growing, Daly said the league will not demand more transparency about lineups and injuries. "At the end of the day we have to have policies that facilitate the game on the ice because (that's) what's most important," Daly said.
• There are no plans to increase the number of teams that qualify for the postseason.
• Daly said back-to-back home games against the same team that occurred most of this season will likely continue on some level.
• ESPN's first official broadcast after replacing NBC as the NHL's media partner is the July 21 expansion draft. It also will televise the first round of the NHL draft July 23.