Bettman: NHL rules evolve

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:43 AM ET

It's at the point where Gary Bettman needs to be heard being as strong on the subject of hits to the head in hockey as he is on the need for a new arena here.

The last time the NHL commissioner was here he was brought in by the Oilers to hard sell the need for a new downtown arena.

That didn't seem to be the case when he showed up here Wednesday, although he did come out strong on the subject when asked a question well into his pre-game press availability “I spent a fair amount of time being briefed on the arena proposal,” he said of meetings during the day with Bob Black and Patrick Laforge.

“And I think it's very exciting, very compelling and I think it's very important to this franchise. This is the second oldest arena in this league and the smallest arena in the league and if this team is going to be successful long term, they need an arena.

“There's no question about it.

“With the lease expiring in 2014 people need to focus on the need for a new arena. Having a new arena is essential.”

But he said he wasn't invited here to have meetings with the politicians or anything like that.

“The role we take is the one we're invited to take. We can be helpful in bringing information on what's been done in other places. We haven't been asked to do that.”

But on the hot topic of the day in hockey, Bettman was nowhere near as direct and the language was nowhere near as plain.

“I don't think it's been piecemeal on safety,” he said of the NHL's perceived approach on the subject so far.

“I think it's been gradual evolution.

“With equipment we do have to wrestle with the issue that the players like having freedom of choice. We've had to educate, we've had to evolve,” he said using visors as an example and grandfathering things which go all the way back to helmets and Craig MacTavish of the Oilers being the last player playing without one.

“We're trying to do this where everybody is on board. It's been slow. In some respects it's more of a personal decision of the players. We've been discussing, for a while now, the softening of shoulder pads. We'd like to do this with the cooperation of the players association.

“When it comes to hit to the head, there's been an evolution on that as well.

“This issue for us is what can we do about what is otherwise a legal check resulting a shoulder going into a head? We have studied it very carefully and extensively. We want to get it right. We average 40 hits a game. That make us that's somewhere in excess of 50,000. It's an essential element to our game.

“We want to get those hits that make us uncomfortable out of the game. But we want to do this in a very judicious, professional way.

“I think the consensus is that when a player is the subject of an unsuspecting hit to the head when he's vulnerable there should be something we can do to create a standard that anybody understands and that everybody is comfortable with that doesn't change the very fundamentals of our game. We need to take the time and create a very precise standard, something that's easily understood and something the players know what to expect. Something that the officials know what to call and if necessary Colin Campbell knows how he's going to discipline.

“We're looking for precision. Not over-legislation.

“We will have ample time in march and hopefully we can come to some sort of consensus. It is important and it is something we take extremely seriously because it starts with the premise that we want to protect the well being of our players.”

Hardly a 'Gary Bettman Says Heads-Up On Head Hunting' story that hockey needs to read right now.

So what the heck was Bettman doing here Wednesday, anyway?

“I try to get everywhere once. I might miss three or four because I guess wrong on who is going to make the playoffs,” he began to explain.

But with the Edmonton Oilers' placed 29th overall going into Wednesday's game against the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton was a pretty safe bet in January, huh Gary?

“No, no, no,” he began to back peddle as the interview room erupted in laughter.


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