Gary Bettman

Focus group fallout: When does enough become enough for the NHL?

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The latest PR disaster for the NHL – as if yet another work stoppage wasn’t tarnishing its image enough – came Monday when it was revealed by Deadspin that a focus group had been commissioned by the league to gauge fan reaction to various lockout-related issues.

The focus group – led by well-known political consultant and Republican strategist Frank Luntz – asked participants to, among other things, read lists of statements and answer which ones made them feel most negative about the owners, or which ones were the most persuasive in justifying the lockout, or which ones were most disappointing about the lockout.

The intent of the focus group was obvious: The NHL wanted to know the best way to sell the lockout to the fans.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed to sportsnet.ca that the league regularly does “polling and focus groups on issues impacting the league, as do other sports leagues. It’s part of our normal business practices.”

But most will argue there’s a difference between assembling a focus group for marketing purposes (e.g, “What do you like most about the NHL playoffs?”) and PR purposes.

And while some have tried to justify the league’s use of focus groups, even in this particular case, the overwhelming reaction to the Deadspin story has been negative.

The question is, has it been negative enough to soften the league’s position against the NHLPA and, in turn, help resolve the lockout?

We ask in large part due to the NFL’s experience during its recent referees lockout. In that case, a badly blown call by the replacement officials on Monday Night Football was considered to have embarrassed the league to the point it had no choice but to bring back the regular refs.

Not to suggest NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is taking as much flak for the Deadspin story as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell took for the replacement officials. The blown call in the Monday Night Football game was international news.

But Bettman is still taking some serious flak, the Deadspin story just the latest storm of controversy. Jim Devellano’s infamous “cattle” comment was another black eye for the NHL.

Bettman is used to the criticism and he knows it’s part of the job, but at some point enough has to become enough.

Whether we’re at the tipping point yet, or even close to it, is still to be seen.

The NHL and NHLPA are meeting today in Toronto.

WATCH LIVE: Blues at Blackhawks

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 12: Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck against Jay Bouwmeester #19 and Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues during the season opening game at the United Center on October 12, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The St. Louis Blues will look to improve their cushion in the Western Conference playoff race when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.

You can catch the game on NBCSN (7:30 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

NHL On NBCSN: Blues look to slow down Blackhawks

Blues extend Berglund — five years, $19.25 million

Blackhawks’ Hjalmarsson ‘day-to-day,’ will not play on Sunday

BREAKING: Ben Bishop reportedly traded to L.A. Kings

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning tends net against the New York Islanders during the second period at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The L.A. Kings have reportedly acquired goalie Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

That is according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie and TSN on Sunday.

The news comes one day after Jonathan Quick returned to the Kings crease after a 59-game absence due to a groin injury and was solid in a winning effort versus the Anaheim Ducks.

The Kings are three points out of the final wild card spot in the West.

More to come.

Video: More evidence Connor McDavid is really good at hockey

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 13:  Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates his first career NHL goal against the Dallas Stars in the second period at American Airlines Center on October 13, 2015 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Connor McDavid once again had that blazing speed of his on display. The latest victims? The Nashville Predators on Sunday.

The sophomore star scored his 21st goal of the season and league-leading 70th point thanks to a beautiful individual effort, putting his Oilers back into a tie game at the time.

McDavid picked up the puck just outside his blue line, accelerated to beat Roman Josi in the neutral zone, beat Ryan Ellis with a move and immediately snapped his shot home for the goal.

Two more Canucks players showing symptoms of the mumps

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 11: Ben Hutton #27 of the Vancouver Canucks skates against the Boston Bruins during the third period at TD Garden on February 11, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Canucks 4-3. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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There was good news and bad news for the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday, as the club deals with an outbreak of the mumps.

First, the bad news: Head coach Willie Desjardins confirmed that forward Anton Rodin, defenseman Ben Hutton and trainer Brian Hamilton are now experiencing symptoms of the mumps.

Initially, five players — Troy Stecher, Chris Tanev, Nikita Tryamkin, Mike Chaput and Markus Granlund — had been affected.

The good news? Stecher, who had the first confirmed case of the mumps, was back on the ice Sunday for an optional practice, per the Canucks.

The Canucks, nine points out of a playoff spot in the West, host the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.

The following day is the trade deadline, and the Canucks could be busy, with at least three players — Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen and Ryan Miller — all mentioned as possible targets for other teams.

Speaking to TSN 1040 radio on Friday, GM Jim Benning didn’t believe the mumps outbreak would impact his plans leading up to the deadline.