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Bettman says concussions are down in NHL, declines to reveal how much

BOCA RATON, Fla. - Gary Bettman says concussions are down in the NHL this season, but the commissioner won't reveal any numbers to support that assessment.

Bettman said Wednesday that concussions have declined this year from last but declined to tell reporters at the league's general managers meetings what the statistics were. The league has shared the numbers at past GMs meetings.

"We have numbers, but we're not ready to give them out," Bettman said Wednesday. "When the season is over if we give them out, we'll give them out, but I think it's fair to say they're down."

Bettman cited a desire to wait until the end of the season to see what the complete numbers are instead of those through just the games already played.

He credited Brendan Shanahan's work in the department of player safety for the improvement, saying that the league is "heading in the right direction." Bettman called it a significant decline.

"It depends on your definition," he said. "My definition is it's a healthy decline, and that's a good pun if you're thinking about what I just said."

In the business aspect of the game, one thing that's not as healthy as it had been is the Canadian dollar, which has fallen to around 90 cents US after being worth as much as 96 within the past year.

Bettman said the system the NHL uses of converting everything to U.S. dollars accounts for fluctuation and does not think the drop is an issue. It will, however affect next year's salary cap, which was estimated at December's board of governors meeting to be just over US$71 million.

Cautioning that it was only an illustration, Bettman downplayed the impact of the loonie's value on the cap.

"With the Canadian dollar where it is maybe you're looking at a million or two difference in the cap based on where the cap is likely to be," he said. "It's not that big of a deal."

Bettman had a similar answer when asked about Pierre Karl Peladeau's decision to run in the Quebec provincial election for the sovereigntist Parti Quebecois. Peladeau, the former president and CEO of media giant Quebecor, has been considered a prospective owner if the NHL chooses to put an expansion team in Quebec City.

"You are assuming that there was something in place that changed," Bettman said, repeating that the league is not contemplating a formal expansion process right now. "Quebecor has, on an ongoing basis, expressed interest. I wish Mr. Peladeau well in his next endeavour, but to the extent that Quebecor or somebody in Quebec City might or might not be interested, that didn't change."

Bettman also addressed the league's decision to reduce the punishment on the New Jersey Devils for attempting to circumvent the salary cap with the Ilya Kovalchuk contract in 2010.

Originally the Devils had to forfeit a first-round pick in either 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014 along with a 2011 third-rounder and US$3 million, until the NHL decided to reduce the fine and give the club its first-rounder back with the catch that it will be 30th overall.

"I think in the context of everything that took place and the circumstances, I thought the penalty could, and should, be adjusted," Bettman said. "It is still a severe penalty, considering the fact that if the Devils don't make the playoffs, not only is it a lottery pick they might lose, it might be the first pick of the draft. So, under all the circumstances, I was very comfortable making the modification."

Those circumstances included Kovalchuk leaving New Jersey for the KHL and terminating the second, valid contract and Josh Harris and new owners taking over the franchise.

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