Bettman: Lemieux, Burkle will do what's best for Penguins

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks at a news conference before the NHL All-Star Game skills competition Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks at a news conference before the NHL All-Star Game skills competition Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn.
Photo by AP
| Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, 4:48 p.m.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — From a pending concussion lawsuit to the falling value of the Canadian dollar, there are plenty of things NHL commissioner Gary Bettman could worry about these days.

A potential sale of the Penguins apparently isn't one of them.

Speaking at a news conference Saturday a day before the NHL All-Star Game, Bettman expressed in no uncertain terms that he has no concerns about the Penguins' future or their ownership.

“The franchise is in strong hands with Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux,” Bettman said in his first public comments about a potential sale. “For a variety of reasons, some of them which may be personal, they're exploring their options, but their support of the franchise has never wavered, and they've been great owners. If they choose to make some adjustments, I'm sure they'll do only what's in the best interest long term of the franchise.”

Lemieux and Burkle announced in June they were exploring a sale of at least part of their stake in the team.

A Penguins sale, however, isn't the only issue Bettman said he isn't worried about.

NHL teams are scoring 5.27 goals per game this season, the lowest since they tallied 5.14 per game the season before the 2004-05 lockout, but Bettman said he's pleased with the entertainment level of the game.

“We constantly look at scoring,” he said. “Am I satisfied that the game is exciting and competitive? Absolutely. Our races are incredible. You never know on any given night who's going to win.

“Should there be more scoring? That's something we'll discuss with the GMs. There's no universal view on that. Is a 1-0 exciting game better than a 7-1 game where there's eight goals scored? It's not an easy question to simply say, ‘Yes, I want more scoring.' You've really got to look at how the game is being played and how competitive it is. And the game's extraordinarily entertaining right now.”

Among other topics Bettman discussed:

• The march toward expansion to Las Vegas and Quebec City is not on a fast track. The earliest it could come is 2017-18.

“We're not ready to make a recommendation. That's something that will be done over the next few months, and that recommendation could be no expansion, no teams, one team or two teams,” Bettman said. “The process is ongoing. I don't have a firm date, but the process is on track.”

• Bettman put a happy face on the controversy surrounding the election of enforcer John Scott to the All-Star Game as a result of a joke campaign. The league had been accused of trying to strong-arm Scott into declining the invitation.

“Once he decided, taking everything into account, that he wanted to be here, it was a closed issue from our perspective,” Bettman said. “He was welcome to come, and we welcomed him here.”

• No decision has been made to change fan voting procedures or to levy stiffer penalties on players who decide to skip All-Star festivities.

• The league is considering adding cameras to help the coach's challenge of offside calls to run more smoothly.

• Bettman expressed displeasure with the recent leak of emails related to a concussion lawsuit the league is facing but seemed confident the league will not lose the case. “I'm very comfortable with our record,” he said.

• Bettman also said there was no news to announce on the future of NHL player participation in the Olympics, the falling value of the Canadian dollar is not a crippling worry to the team's owners, and that Los Angeles will host next year's All-Star Game.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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