Gary Bettman

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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta floats idea of NHL in Houston

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The NHL will likely go up to 32 teams at some point in the future, so until that happens the questions of expansion/relocation will continue.

On Wednesday, Katie Strang of The Athletic reported that Commissioner Gary Bettman met with Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta about the possibility of bringing an NHL team to the city.

Bettman told Strang that the league wasn’t looking into relocation options at the moment, but should that change… “If Houston were to express an interest in having an NHL franchise, under the right circumstances, it’s something we might want to consider,” he said.

Last month, Fertitta made his desire to bring an NHL team to Houston clear and that option checks some important boxes should the league look to move a franchise or expand. There’s interested ownership and a suitable building with the Toyota Center, which seats 17,800 for hockey.

“I would put an NHL team here tomorrow,” Fertitta said last month via the Houston Chronicle. “This one has got to work. But I’d love to have the other dates in the building. Do I want to see Toyota Center filled up 300 nights a year? Definitely. We’ll do whatever we can do, but whatever we do has to make sense. Will we be aggressive? Yes. That’s my nature.”

Fertitta Tweeted on Thursday that this whole process is in the early stages.

These types of meetings aren’t unique for the NHL. Bettman has met with many prospective groups over the years who have expressed interest in owning a team. Hartford, as we know, still wants the Whalers back 20 years after they relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina. It never hurts to listen to a pitch because there’s always some team or teams having financial or arena issues that spur rumors. You can definitely think of more than a few teams right now who would make that list.

Houston has a long relationship with hockey, as Third String Goalie wrote about earlier this year, and former Rockets owner Les Alexander almost delivered NHL hockey to the city on two occasions. Most recently the AHL’s Aeros played in the Toyota Center until 2013 when their parent club, the Minnesota Wild, moved the team to Des Moines, Iowa.

There’s plenty of competition to be head of the line should the NHL want to expand or relocate. Along with Houston there’s Quebec City, Kansas City, Seattle, and Hamilton, Ont., among other cities. This is just another hat in a big ring.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Bettman on NHL Olympic future; Malkin joins ‘Putin’s Team’

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on if the league would ever return to the Olympics: “I never say never, but I find it hard to envision a scenario where it makes sense, unless, possibly, if the Winter Games are back in North America where the time frame and the attention and the logistics, travel, are a lot different.” [NBC Sports]

• Here’s a name for future induction in the Hockey Hall of Fame: Frank Zamboni. [CBC]

Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins is the latest Russian hockey player to join “Putin’s Team,” the social movement first promoted by Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. [Tribune Review]

• All hail Sergei Bobrovsky. [Jackets Cannon]

• Step away from the panic button. It’s going to be just fine for the Calgary Flames. [Flames Nation]

• Returning to the Los Angeles Kings was like coming home for Mike Cammalleri. [Kings]

• The San Jose Sharks have been looking a bit Kings-like of late. [NBC Bay Area]

• What did Leo Komarov think of the little kiss Brad Marchand planted on him Saturday night? “I kind of liked it.” [TSN]

• Just how close did Jaromir Jagr get to signing with the St. Louis Blues? [Post-Dispatch]

• You may notice Keith Yandle is using a unique stick. Here’s the story behind it. [Panthers]

• Now that Matt Duchene is gone, who should be the regular second line center for the Colorado Avalanche? [Mile High Hockey]

Jason Zucker’s goal scoring binge is benefiting more than just the Minnesota Wild. [Star Tribune]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Bettman: overwhelmingly players do the right thing

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This off-season presents a slew of bad headlines for the NHL, something its players and commissioner both notice.

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun caught up with some of the league’s biggest movers and shakers to find out how they feel about these situations.

In the case of the players, stars like Tyler Seguin and Sidney Crosby said that you must learn to be careful.

The league itself may try to do something a little more concrete to prevent or least limit future issues, including what Bill Daly describes as “an additional educational program.”

Even so, Gary Bettman seems confident that most players conduct themselves properly. He also argues that the NHL is doing its part, too.

“… We’ve had a variety of programs in place, we’re constantly looking at what we can do to make sure that the programs are touching the right bases and are effective, but we focus on what we think is best for our players and our game,” Bettman said. “As I’ve said, overwhelmingly our players do the right things.”

It’s been a week of updates regarding legal situations for the likes of Slava Voynov, Patrick Kane, Ryan O'Reilly and Mike Richards, yet closure has been tough to come by. With proceedings getting postponed, these negative headlines continue to reverberate.

Going forward, the league can only do so much, but officials would indeed be wise to consider every avenue.

For more thoughts from Bettman, Crosby, Seguin and others on this subject, check out LeBrun’s full article.

NHL ordered to turn over concussion data as part of lawsuit

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U.S. Federal Court judge Susan Nelson ordered the NHL to turn over “reams of data about injuries and concussions” as part of an ongoing lawsuit, TSN’s Rick Westhead reports.

Approximately 80 former players are involved in the legal matter.

Here’s what Nelson wrote in her ruling, via Westhead:

“The Court finds that the (NHL’s) blanket application of the physician-patient privilege – protecting all medical data from disclosure – is inapplicable here,” Nelson wrote.

“The clubs are ordered to produce any internal reports, studies, analyses and databases in their possession (whether initiated by the U.S. clubs, NHL, or retained researchers) for the purpose of studying concussions in de-identified form. The U.S. clubs shall produce any responsive correspondence and/or emails between themselves, themselves and the NHL, or with any research or other professional about the study of concussions.”

Players names will not be shared in this process. The NHL reportedly estimates that producing such reams of data could cost about $13.5 million. Commissioner Gary Bettman was deposed for eight hours on Friday regarding the lawsuit, although his testimony is “under seal for now.”

For more, read the full report from Westhead at TSN.

Montador’s lawyer calls Bettman’s comments on concussions and CTE ‘shocking’

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The lawyer representing the family of the late Steve Montador called commissioner Gary Bettman’s comments on the link between concussions and CTE shocking.

Montador, who appeared in 571 NHL games with the Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers, Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres and Chicago Blackhawks, died on Feb. 15. An autopsy revealed he suffered from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

“From a medical and scientific standpoint,” Bettman said on Thursday about a possible link between concussions and CTE, “there is no evidence yet that one leads to the other.”

William Gibbs of the Chicago-based law firm, who plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of the Montador family against the NHL, was surprised at the comments.

“I presumed that he must have been misquoted because it made no sense to me,” Gibbs told The Chicago Tribune. “I guess there has been no medical or scientific study saying that if you have 15 shots of whiskey and drive the wrong way down an interstate highway you’re going to hurt someone. Do we need such a study to know it’s dangerous? Mr. Bettman seems to be saying that there is no link between repetitive head trauma sustained during a professional hockey career and later in life issues, which is shocking in this day and age.”

According to researchers at Boston University, CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.

Montador was found dead in his Mississauga, Ontario, home at age 35. Over parts of 10 seasons Montador had 65 regular season fights.

“Certainly, we believe very strongly that there is a lot of evidence regarding that correlation and that connection,” Gibbs said. “The only way that one can acquire CTE — I’m no scientist — but I’ve read, is through repetitive head trauma. When we know that someone has been involved in a sport professionally for a decade that encourages fighting, which certainly exposes the brain to trauma, and through the natural course of a game has certainly a propensity to cause trauma to the head, it doesn’t take a genius to add that all together and say professional hockey in Steve Montador’s case caused his CTE.”

The NHLPA declined to comment directly to the Tribune on CTE, but revealed plans to launch an athlete development program next season in partnership with the NHL.