PITTSBURGH - NHL commissioner Gary Bettman takes in a Stanley Cup playoff game in every city. He started this postseason tour in Pittsburgh with Game 1 of an opening-round series between the Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night. He made time for a few questions from the Tribune-Review:
Q: What did you like about the Player Safety Department under Brendan Shanahan, and what element must continue with his eventual full-time replacement?
A: What I like is that he created it. No, seriously. He put in place a series of systems, the department and personnel — and I believe that we, through the creation of that department, have begun to effectuate a change in the culture of the game in terms of types of hits that are out of the game now. You can show a lot of video of players not making certain hits that they would have made years ago.
Q: Are you comfortable with the new playoff system?
A: When you look at how the regular season played out, it was extraordinarily exciting. That's a testament to our competitive balance. Some of these (first-round) matchups are phenomenal. In this one, you've got a great rivalry going to the next level, as playoff matchups tend to do. (Pittsburgh and Columbus) are 180 miles apart. It's great. We've got the Flyers and Rangers, and Detroit playing Boston for the first time since 1951. It's intriguing and fun.
Q: Do you favor future regular-season schedules with more division games, or at least more of those late in the season?
A: No, I think what we have now we'll continue to test drive. The early signs are good. Everything's balanced. There's no perfection when you have a series of variables — some of which, like geographical location of your franchisees, you have no control over.
Q: Have you made any decision on future NHL participation with the Olympics?
A: From the moment we left Sochi (Russia), we have not given the Olympics any thought. You hear some of the clubs suggesting players are tired and worn out. Particularly, you look at teams that had 10 or nine players. (St. Louis coach) Ken Hitchcock was quoted the other day and said (the Blues) ran out of gas a little bit and they're looking to rejuvenate for playoffs. It has an impact with injuries and fatigue.
Q: Do you still have plans for a World Cup of hockey?
A: It's something we've repeatedly said we're interested in. We've been in discussion with the Players Association, which obviously is our partner in this. We have a pretty good idea of what we want to do. We're waiting for the PA to sign off.
(Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.)