Bettman says it’s too early to link CTE to fighting

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Not all of the news coming out of the Board of Governors meeting in Pebble Beach has revolved around realignment. In addition to the well-publicized conference shuffling, Gary Bettman discussed a much more important topic on the second day of the meetings in California. Today, the NHL commissioner was discussing the New York Times article that revealed that yet another former NHL player had been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

It’s not surprising that Bettman was confronted with plenty of questions in the wake of the Times series of articles this week. But even as former players are being diagnosed, the league insists that it’s too soon to make any assumptions.

From QMI Agency: “Do you know everything that went on in their lives?” asked Bettman. “Were there other things going on which could also cause CTE? The data is not sufficient to draw a conclusion. Our experts tell us the same thing. You don’t have a broad enough database to make that assumption or conclusion because you don’t know what else these players might have had in common, if anything.”

But that wasn’t all Bettman had to say. He insists that the league has been ahead of the curve with head injuries and continues to look for ways to keep their players safe. “Look at our history,” Bettman told USA Today’s Kevin Allen. “Starting in 1997, we’ve been all across all fronts, whether it was the working study group, baseline testing, diagnosis and return-to-play protocol, rule changes and creation of the department of player safety, we’ve been doing lots and lots and will continue to do lots and lots. But there are no easy answers yet. But I think it’s unfortunate that people use tragedies to jump to conclusions that probably at this stage aren’t supported.”

The problem for the league and its decision makers is that there isn’t an easy fix even if CTE is positively linked to the NHL. It’s easy to say that fighting would eliminate the degenerative brain risk, but Rick Martin wasn’t a fighter and he was diagnosed with CTE earlier this year.

No matter what rule changes are put in place, hockey is a fast-paced, violent game. “Even if it’s a legal hit, it can lead to a concussion,” Bettman said. “We play a very fast-paced, physical game in a close environment. I think people need to take a deep breath and not overreact. It’s important to react and it’s something we’ll monitor closely.”

Nobody wants any of the players to have to endure mental or physical injuries that linger well past their playing career. The league may be slow to admit there is very likely a link between NHL hockey and CTE, but it’s true that there isn’t a quick fix to prevent players from potentially dealing with the disease.

The best news: it’s an issue that is getting mentioned at one of the most important meeting of the year. The first step is admitting there may be a problem. Once the issue is officially on the docket, the Board of Governors can take a look at possible solutions.

Coyotes fire assistant coach Newell Brown

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The Arizona Coyotes have parted ways with some personnel.

Assistant coach Newell Brown has been fired, along with Doug Soetaert, who was the general manager of their AHL affiliate in Tuscon.

Pro scouts David MacLean and Jim Roque won’t be back either. Their contracts will not be renewed.

“I’d like to thank Newell, Doug, David and Jim for their contributions to the club,” said GM John Chayka. “They are all good people but we believe these changes are necessary in order to improve our organization. We wish them the best in the future.”

A longtime NHL assistant coach, Brown is perhaps the most prominent of the four men. He joined the Coyotes in the summer of 2013 and received high praise for his work with their power play.

But Arizona’s power play slipped to 26th this past season, converting at a rate of just 16.2 percent.

As for Soetaert, he was only named GM of the Roadrunners last summer. The former NHL goalie had previously been a scout.

Plenty of seats available for tonight’s game in Ottawa

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The Ottawa Senators say they’re still expecting a full house, but Ticketmaster’s website shows plenty of available seats for tonight’s second-round opener with the New York Rangers.

From the Ottawa Citizen:

Many of the available tickets for Thursday’s game were in the corners of the upper bowl, seats that carry a $96 price tag.

The Senators sold out all three games in the opening round of the playoffs against Boston. Game 1 drew a crowd of 18,702, while 18,629 showed up for Game 2 and 19,209 were in the seats for Game 5.

Attendance has been an issue in Ottawa — or, more specifically, suburban Kanata — all season, to the point owner Eugene Melnyk expressed great frustration with the lack of sellouts at Canadian Tire Centre.

Poor attendance also led to friction behind the scenes. At least, it sure sounded that way in the lawsuit that was filed against the team by its former chief marketing officer.

Poor attendance is why the Sens are trying to get a new downtown arena built. They believe that a more central location is the key to bigger crowds.

But regardless of the arena’s location, it won’t be a good look if there are empty seats tonight. This is the playoffs, and the Senators are one of eight remaining teams in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. The building should be full.

Related: Melnyk thinks Sens can make deep playoff run

McPhee won’t bring Stanley, Vegas’ lucky golden rooster, to draft lottery

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There’s no way any lede I write will do this Review-Journal anecdote justice, so yeah, just read it:

[Vegas GM George] McPhee still has his superstitions like any former athlete. But don’t expect him to be rubbing a rabbit’s foot or holding a bunch of 4-leaf clovers in his pocket.

And he decided to leave Stanley the Rooster home rather than try and explain to Canadian Customs officials why the gift given to the team by the Mandarin Oriental back in February during Chinese New Year should be allowed into the country as a good luck prop.

The draft lottery goes Saturday in Toronto, at 7:30 p.m. ET. Vegas won’t drop any lower than sixth and has a 10.3 percent shot at the No. 1 overall pick, behind Colorado (18 percent) and Vancouver (12.1 percent). Arizona also has a 10.3 percent chance at getting top spot.

Hagelin making ‘significant steps’ in returning to Pens lineup

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It’s been nearly six weeks since Carl Hagelin last suited up for the Penguins.

His return sounds like it’s on the horizon.

Hagelin, out since Mar. 10 with a lower-body injury, was deemed “close” to coming back by Pens head coach Mike Sullivan, just ahead of tonight’s Game 1 against Washington.

“[Hagelin] is a day-to-day decision at this point,” Sullivan said. “He took limited contact this morning. The next step, obviously, will be the full contact approach.

“He is certainly making significant steps in the right direction here.”

The speedy Swede missed the final 16 games of the regular season with his ailment, and all five games in Pittsburgh’s opening-round win against the Blue Jackets. The end result was just six goals and 22 points in 61 games played, down from the impressive stretch he had last season after being acquired from Anaheim.

Pittsburgh is hopeful the 28-year-old can rejoin the team, and provide similar production as last year’s playoff run. Hagelin had six goals and 16 points in 24 games en route to hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Hagelin isn’t the only veteran forward that could make his return this season. Earlier this week, the Pens announced winger Chris Kunitz had been cleared for contact, and is available for the Washington series.