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Bettman argues that Olympic participation hurts NHL product

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LOS ANGELES — Gary Bettman reiterated his criticism of the International Olympic Committee today, as prospects of a deal to send NHLers to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea remain in doubt.

In an interview with Sportsnet’s Ron MacLean, the commissioner also said that the NHL owes it to the fans to ensure Olympic participation doesn’t affect the quality of the league’s product.

“Our fans love NHL hockey, and that’s what our obligation is to provide, night in and night out, on a best-quality basis,” said Bettman. “And subjecting the game to players who might get injured more often, or are more tired because they’ve got more back-to-backs, so they’re playing five games in seven nights — that’s what you get when you disrupt the schedule.”

Yesterday, Bettman criticized the IOC for its refusal to cover insurance, travel and accommodation costs. He again pointed the finger today, saying the IOC “made a terrible mistake by putting [the expenses] in issue,” since formerly indifferent NHL owners were now wondering if disrupting the season was worth it.

The players still want to go to the Olympics.

“It’s a great experience,” said Sidney Crosby. “I’ve had a couple of opportunities to be a part of it. It’s great memories, and the whole thing, I think it’s great for hockey as well. There’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of people involved in making that decision, though, so we’ll just have to wait and see how things shake out. It’ll be a pretty hot topic here for the next little while.”

Connor McDavid was even more forceful in his desire to go.

“One hundred percent, NHL players should be there,” the 20-year-old told reporters. “I can’t imagine the Olympics without it.”

Bettman: Hurricanes not moving; Islanders exploring options within market

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LOS ANGELES — The Carolina Hurricanes aren’t going anywhere.

The New York Islanders might, but if they do, they won’t go far.

That was the message NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had for fans of those two teams today. The commissioner’s comments came just hours after Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr. told a reporter that he was now open to selling the entire franchise, not just a part of it.

Bettman was first asked about the situation in Carolina.

“I actually don’t think it’s any different than what Peter’s been telling me over time,” said Bettman. “I think he hasn’t ruled anything in or anything out and there’s no formal sale process ongoing.”

The commissioner added, “There’s no imperative for the franchise to be sold on any immediate basis, and the franchise is not moving.”

As for the Islanders, they may, indeed, have to move out of Barclays Center, but they won’t be relocating to another market.

“The owners are committed to the franchise, they’re committed to New York and the great fan base that has followed the Islanders,” said Bettman. “There are some issues about playing in Barclays that may be fundamental as to the ice system, and that’s not something that can be fixed in the short term. I think, as is prudent, Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky are reviewing the situation and looking very seriously at what their options are.”

It’s been reported that Malkin and Ledecky, the Isles’ new majority owners, are exploring multiple options, including staying in Brooklyn or building a new arena in Nassau County or Queens.

Related: John Tavares open to signing contract extension this summer

Bettman points finger at IOC for opening a ‘whole can of worms’ re: Olympic expenses

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LOS ANGELES — The International Olympic Committee may have opened a “whole can of worms” when it said it would no longer cover out-of-pocket expenses for NHLers to go to the 2018 Games in South Korea.

That was the phrase NHL commissioner Gary Bettman used today. There is still no deal to send the world’s best players to the next Winter Olympics, and according to Bettman, the IOC’s refusal to cover insurance, travel and accommodation costs may have actually put some league owners off participation.

“What I think has happened…you know, there were probably some owners over time who always thought the Olympics were a good idea, there were some owners who always hated it,” said Bettman, “and there were probably a bunch of clubs that really didn’t give it much thought until the IOC said we weren’t going to pay the expenses. And then I think it caused a number of clubs to say, ‘Well, wait a minute, if that’s how they value our participation, why are we knocking ourselves out?'”

Translation: Even if the money gets raised to cover the expenses, the NHL may still decide against Olympic participation.

“I think when the IOC said, ‘You know what? We don’t think it’s worth it, we’re not going to pay,’ I think that may have opened a whole can of worms,” said Bettman.

“We’ve never said, and I’ve been very clear about it, that just raising the money was the only issue. We’ve said from the outset that if they’re not going to pay the expenses, we don’t even have to think about this.”

So, not the greatest update for all the players and fans who desperately want the NHL to continue its participation. While there’s still time to strike a deal — and perhaps the commissioner was doing some of his patented posturing today — the clock is definitely ticking.

Related: NHL working on two different schedules for 2017-18 due to Olympic uncertainty

MacKinnon concedes that ‘changes are necessary when you lose like this’

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LOS ANGELES — Nathan MacKinnon knows he’s lucky to be in the NHL. He understands life could be a lot worse than getting paid big money to play a game. He’s not pouting.

Still, all the losing is getting to him. His Colorado Avalanche (13-31-2) are the worst team in the league. Trade rumors are swirling. Big changes are coming.

“It’s tough,” MacKinnon said Saturday. “You don’t wake up with the same excitement that you used to. Even in your personal life, it takes a hit on you. It’s draining. Especially when you’re losing like this.”

Two of MacKinnon’s teammates, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, are the most likely to be on the move.

“They’ve been in Colorado for a long time,” said MacKinnon. “They don’t want to get traded. Everyone wants to figure this thing out. It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this, but I think changes are necessary when you lose like this.”

It remains to be seen when the changes will occur. Some may happen before the March 1 trade deadline, others may wait for the offseason.

But changes are coming, there’s no real doubt about it anymore.

Related: Fixing the Avs’ defense through trades will prove tough

Bobrovsky feeling ‘really good right now,’ and that’s great news for the Jackets

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LOS ANGELES — Sergei Bobrovsky is still feeling great. Though only five goalies have started more games than he has this season, he insists he’s not tired. And more importantly, his groin hasn’t acted up again.

“Last season was tough, especially with injuries,” the Blue Jackets’ star netminder said today. “So far, I’m happy that I’m healthy. That’s the biggest thing for me. I’m just happy to play hockey, being around the guys, with my teammates.”

Bobrovsky was limited to just 37 starts in 2015-16. He’s already made 39 this season, and Columbus still has 34 games to go.

“I love to play, I love the game,” he said. “I feel really good right now.”

Read more: Keeping Bobrovsky healthy is ‘a huge priority’ for Columbus, and for good reason

Bobrovsky doesn’t know if the weight he dropped during the offseason (almost 20 pounds, so not an insignificant amount) has helped him stay healthy. But he’s glad he decided to do it.

“I just felt I would have more of an advantage, being lighter and quicker,” he said.

His numbers, 28-9-2 with a .929 save percentage, certainly support that notion. In fact, only Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk might have a stronger Vezina Trophy case at this point.

Bobrovksy is likely to remain busy after the break. The Jackets lost their veteran backup, Curtis McElhinney, on waivers to Toronto, and youngsters Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg still have some developing to do.

“I’m happy to help my teammates at any time,” said Bobrovsky. “It’s good that the organization and the coach trusts me and that they put me in lots of games.”