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Players look forward to hearing from Bettman at NHLPA meeting

LAS VEGAS - Gary Bettman is about to get a rare audience with the NHL Players' Association. He better come ready for some tough questions.

The NHL commissioner will speak to players during their annual North American meetings on Saturday morning, marking the first time in his 16 years on the job that it has happened.

The players are looking forward to it.

"I think he'll probably come in and talk to us for 10 minutes and then I'm hoping he does open the floor up for questions," Calgary Flames defenceman Robyn Regehr said Friday.

"Because I think as players we have some really good questions for him.

"And I hope that he answers them truthfully, unlike what happened earlier on this year when he was talking about the Phoenix situation and kind of skirted the questions and the real truth."

The Coyotes situation might not even be the biggest thing on the commissioner's agenda. He's also expected to address the players about the need for more stringent drug testing - an issue he raised during his state of the league address during the Stanley Cup final.

About 110 players are in Las Vegas to discuss a variety of issues this weekend.

They broke into four smaller groups during their meeting on Friday to tackle different subjects and exchange ideas. Mark Messier also addressed the group about the importance of the union.

One issue that remains important to the majority of players is the need to have an automatic penalty for headshots - something executive director Paul Kelly has talked about repeatedly without much support from general managers.

It will be one of the issues on the agenda at next Thursday's competition committee meeting in Montreal.

The committee was also looking at the suggestion by GMs that a 10-minute misconduct penalty be adopted for staged fights. The NHLPA had several tough guys sit down together on Wednesday to discuss various issues around fighting and they were overwhelming against the potential rule.

"We're about safety, but we also understand that if a fight breaks out in a game, Ghandi isn't leaving - he's going to stay and watch it," said NHLPA executive Glenn Healy. "We understand that it's part of our sport, it cleans up our sport, it polices our sport. And it's entertainment.

"The message was don't tell us how to engage. They gave the group a pretty clear message."

Montreal Canadiens enforcer Georges Laraques doesn't think the rule would end up cutting down on the numbers of fights.

"It would turn into a mockery," he said. "Because I would turn to a guy and say, 'OK, we can't fight right now because of the rule, so we'll do six Mississipi's and meet in the corner."'

While there won't be any fights with Bettman, it could be an interesting session.

With the salary cap now tied directly to league revenues, players are looking around at struggling franchises and wondering if they should be moved. Regehr, for one, wants to ask Bettman about his sunbelt strategy.

"Having teams in some of these areas might not make sense," he said. "His vision to put all these teams in the southern U.S. and all of a sudden get a big TV contract; we haven't seen anything like that happen.

"The TV contract got smaller and some of the teams are in serious financial trouble. So there's going to be a lot of those questions offered to him tomorrow and I think he's going to have to hopefully give us a straight-up, truthful answer."

Another important part of Saturday's agenda will see the players vote on whether next year's league revenues are projected using five per cent inflation - a decision that will affect where the salary cap is.

The vote could go either way.

"I'm going to dance around that one because I'm still listening to all the opinions on how it effects the PA side to the specific player's side," said Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. "It can help certain players. It can hurt certain players.

"You've got to kind of weigh the options (to) see how it helps the greater good and what can equally help the game."



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