By Bill Whitehead
SUNRISE, Fla. -- National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman made his annual visit to BankAtlantic Center Friday night during the Florida Panthers' game with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Bettman spoke on a variety of current issues as the first intermission was winding down. Topics spanned the first-place Panthers' success to the NHL Players Association's disagreement with divisional realignment to rampant injuries throughout the league, plus other points.
Here are five questions the commissioner addressed:What are you hearing about the Panthers from around the league?
"I think it's clear people are excited for the fans down here and for the organization. It's nice to see the team so competitive. It's not about my expectations. It's about the expectations of (owner) Cliff Viner and (general manager) Dale Tallon. They're clearly focused on building this team the right way. You see the preliminary results, to say the least."Describe your disappointment with the union not endorsing realignment. Do you like the proposed divisional format?
"In the final analysis, we decided it was better not to have a confrontation (with the union) and we'll deal with it down the road. First and foremost was getting teams better aligned geographically and to deal with the issues Columbus, Detroit, Dallas, Minnesota and Winnipeg have. And we wanted every team to play a home-and-home against every team. We want every team in every team's building."Are injuries, not just concussions, up in the league this year?
"I don't think so. We're much more proactive in treating and diagnosing injuries, particularly concussions, than ever before. As you see from the numbers, we're more aggressively reporting concussions than ever before. Part of that is changing the culture We want players who have concussions to feel comfortable in telling their clubs and getting treatment and rest. "Is there any chance the Panthers could host a Winter Classic at the Florida Marlins' new ballpark?
"We would have to take a look at it, but I assumed water still freezes down here at 32 degrees. We did it in Las Vegas in an exhibition game, but what's important is that the game's conditions stay competitive. Ultimately, we have to get everyone to participate, even if it's a road game."Is an All-Star Game here more realistic?
"We've had a game here (in 2003), but there's a long list of clubs who want one who haven't had one as recently as South Florida has. But obviously we don't hesitate to have our big events here. We've had the draft (in 2001) and an All-Star Game here."--Bill WhiteheadFlorida Panthers Credentialed CorrespondentTwitter: @BillWhiteheadFLEmail: BillWhiteheadFL@hotmail.com