Bettman won’t rule out fighting ejection for NHL in future; also says league is doing more for retired players

Adam Proteau
Gary Bettman (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)
Gary Bettman (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

In an interview with THN late Sunday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman wasn’t prepared to comment on the ugly optics of Saturday’s Bruins-Penguins game. However, he also wasn’t willing to rule out the league eventually ejecting players with a game misconduct after any fight.

“I don’t think it’s sensible right now to have a debate right now that’s very emotional on both sides,” Bettman said. “If there comes a point where that’s on the table and that enough people feel needs to be changed, then it’ll get considered. But according to the last poll I saw from the players, something like 98% of the players like it the way it is. And if you’re going to make a change, there needs to be a consensus.”

Bettman deferred to the league’s department of player safety to address the fallout from the Boston/Pittsburgh game, which saw Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton slew-foot Pens blueliner Brooks Orpik, then knock him unconscious. But he weighed in on a vast array of topics for the cover story in THN’s upcoming People of Power And Influence issue, including NHL expansion, future Olympic participation, the league’s Canadian TV Rightsholder deal, plans for Europe, lessons from the most recent lockout and more.

The 61-year-old Bettman, who has presided over the NHL for two decades, also responded to a question as to whether the league would be willing to pay for all retired players to be tested for the presence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative disease found in the brains of numerous ex-athletes who competed in contact sports such as hockey.

“To the extent players have unfortunate terms in their lives after their playing days, we have a distress fund that Brian O’Neill administers on our behalf in conjunction with the Players’ Association, and we do make resources available,” Bettman said. “Whether or not we can or we should be doing something more is something we’re always reviewing. And by the way, we also increased the senior player pension plan when we didn’t have an obligation to. So we respect the history of the players that came before and we try to do the right things.”