Bettman: League in meditation on lawsuit

NHL

BUFFALO, N.Y. — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman downplayed the significance of entering mediation with former players in a bid to settle a concussion lawsuit, saying Tuesday the league is simply following a judge’s order.

“The judge asked us to go into mediation and so we’re complying with the judge’s request,” Bettman told The Associated Press.

He said he had nothing to add when asked if there has been progress, and Bettman reiterated the NHL’s position on the lawsuit hasn’t changed, by saying: “We also think the lawsuit doesn’t have merit.”

Bettman spoke to the AP while attending the NHL officials training camp in Buffalo, New York.

Stuart Davidson, one of the attorneys representing the players, disputed Bettman’s assertion on the merits of the lawsuit, while confirming the two sides were asked to enter mediation by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson in Minnesota.

“While we obviously disagree with the Comm­issioner’s views on the merits of these important cases, and continue to work very hard to obtain justice for our clients, the commissioner is correct that Judge Nelson requested that the parties try to work out their differences with a mediator, if they are able,” Davidson wrote in an email.

More than 100 former players are part of the lawsuit in accusing the NHL of failing to better prevent head trauma or warn players of such risks while promoting violent play that led to their injuries.

In July, Nelson denied a bid for class-action status, which would have created one group of all living former NHL players and one group of all retired players diagnosed with a neurological disease, disorder or condition. Had they succeeded, more than 5,000 former players would have been allowed to join the case.

On another matter, Bettman said the league’s board of governors meeting in December is the earliest the NHL will have an opportunity to approve a bid to expand into Seattle. The vote will take place after the expansion group meets with the league’s executive committee on Oct. 2.

Bettman would only say “to be determined” when asked if the Seattle bid, which would expand the NHL to 32 teams, is on track for the 2020-21 season.

Yzerman steps down

Steve Yzerman stepped down as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning after building them into a perennial contender, handing the reins to longtime assistant Julien BriseBois just two days before training camp.

Yzerman will move to a senior adviser role working under BriseBois and he said he was “100 percent committed” to the Lightning this season. Beyond that, Yzerman’s future is cloudy and BriseBois is now in charge.

“I feel this change in role is important for me to allow me to spend more time with my family and to still make sure the Lightning is managed to the level everyone has come to expect,” Yzerman said Tuesday. “We are all delighted that Julien is our next GM. He is more than ready.”

It was a surprising move for a powerhouse team, one that reached the Eastern Conference final last season. The 53-year-old Yzerman spent the past eight seasons as Tampa Bay’s GM, a tenure that included five playoff appearances, three trips to the conference final and an appearance in the 2015 Stanley Cup final.

He said he came to the decision in late July not to sign another contract as GM and that it took until now to iron out details on what to do next. Yzerman’s family has remained in Detroit, and he commuted during his time on the job.

“We felt it was important to let everyone know what we were doing, end any potential speculation,” Yzerman said. “We have a plan here. We come up with a plan, we like our plan, let’s put it in place.”

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