TAMPA, Fla. – NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will not get into a public debate with Mario Lemieux over league discipline.
Lemieux, the Pittsburgh Penguins owner, recently said that the NHL failed in its punishment of the New York Islanders following a fight-filled game between the teams last Friday—and went so far as to question whether he wanted to stay in the league.
“I have the utmost respect and regard for Mario Lemieux, but we’re not going to engage in a public debate on this,” Bettman said before Thursday night’s game between Detroit and Tampa Bay. “We are very comfortable with the way the league responded to Friday night’s game.”
The NHL suspended New York forwards Trevor Gillies for nine games and Matt Martin for four and hit the team with a US$100,000 fine, saying the Islanders “must bear some responsibility for their failure to control their players.”
Pittsburgh forward Eric Godard was the only member of the Penguins’ organization to be punished by the NHL. He received an automatic 10-game suspension because he left the bench to join a fight between New York’s Micheal Haley and Penguins goalie Brent Johnson.
Also, Bettman said no decisions have been made on next season’s Winter Classic, and that discussions won’t begin until after the upcoming Hertiage Classic.
“We’re going through an incredible cycle now of events,” he said.
The Red Wings could receive future consideration to host the Winter Classic.
“Would we like to do an outdoor game in Michigan? The answer is, we know it’s a great hockey market,” Bettman said. “The logistics, the specifics, as they say, the devil is in the details.”
Bettman said “absolutely” that a southern U.S. franchise could someday be the Winter Classic road team.
The commissioner said feedback has been positive about this year’s all-star game—which had a new format in which team captains select players in a draft.
“We, actually, haven’t sat down to have a conversation about what we can do to make it even better or what changes we might want to make,” Bettman said.
The ongoing Phoenix Coyotes situation is still moving toward the closing of a sale from the NHL to Chicago businessman Matt Hulsizer.
“We’re hoping Phoenix will be resolved shortly,” Bettman said. “It continues to be on track.”