NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the league’s investigation into an alleged sexual assault involving members of Canada’s 2018 world junior team is getting “really close to the end.”
In a media availability at the Bell Centre before the Montreal Canadiens’ game against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, Bettman said that the investigation was “not a race” and that the goal was to “get it right.”
“Doing an investigation of this nature, getting access to information and people, isn’t something that you can just snap your fingers and make happen,” Bettman said. “Obviously, we’re not the only ones conducting an investigation and apparently nobody’s done yet and so we want to bring it to its conclusion, but we’re just not there yet.”
“Getting access to people on a timely basis, we don’t technically have subpoena power, getting documentary evidence that may be filed in places that you have to get access to,” said Bettman. “It’s complicated. It’s not like simply saying, we want it to happen. But we’re trying to work it through when we get to the end and we want to get it right.”
The NHL began its own review after news surfaced that Hockey Canada settled a lawsuit with a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by eight members of the country’s world junior team at a gala in 2018. Several players from that gold medal-winning team are currently in the NHL.
The allegations have not been proven in court.
Bettman also said that the process to sell the Ottawa Senators was “underway.” After the death of owner Eugene Melnyk, Senators Sports & Entertainment said in November that the club would be looking at potential buyers.
WATCH l Hollywood superstar Ryan Reynolds interested in buying Senators:
“I believe that the data room is open,” Bettman said. “And the people who will file applications to be qualified have begun to do their due diligence and so my understanding is the process is underway.”
One high-profile suitor, Hollywood actor and entrepreneur Ryan Reynolds, confirmed his interest in acquiring the NHL team to Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show on Nov. 7, 2022. He added that he needed “a partner with deep pockets.”
Reynolds then visited Canadian Tire Centre on Nov. 8 for a 6-4 Senators loss to the Vancouver Canucks and received an ovation.
‘It’s a balancing act’
Bettman also touched on the incident involving Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov back on Jan. 17. The blueliner, who is of Russian Orthodox faith, decided to stay in the Flyers’ locker room as the team held LGBTQ pride night and donned Pride themed pre-game jerseys set to be auctioned for charity.
After the game, Provorov stated his religious beliefs to explain his decision not to step onto the ice wearing the jersey during warmups.
“We as a league and our franchises try to represent the best values in their communities,” Bettman said. “We want to make sure that we can make a positive difference in people’s lives, whether it’s for mental health night or to make certain segments of our society who maybe historically haven’t been involved in hockey feel welcomed and included.
“But ultimately, players also have to be comfortable in terms of their own individual beliefs and it’s a balancing act.”
Displeasure with women’s hockey landscape
In light of the Canada-USA Rivalry series announcing that they would conclude their 2022-23 season in Laval and Trois-Rivieres, Que., Bettman reiterated his displeasure with the women’s hockey landscape.
The current setup pins the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) with seven teams in Canada and the United States with the Professional Womens Hockey Players’ Association (PWHPA). For Bettman, the NHL’s involvement in a professional women’s league remains impossible without common ground between both sides.
Bettman added that he has “tried on more than one occasion” to bring both sides together.
“They each seem intent on going in their own direction,” he said. “I think in order for women’s hockey to be successful, everybody’s got to be maximizing the effort together. Because starting a league is not easy.”
Bettman added that there will be women’s hockey participation once again in the 2023 NHL All-Star Weekend.
All-Star skills to feature golf event, beach dunk tank
The NHL All-Star Skills Competition is set to feature two new outdoor events in South Florida: a mix of hockey and golf and a dunk tank on the beach.
The league announced details Tuesday for the opening of All-Star Weekend, which is set for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise and Fort Lauderdale, including the return of women’s hockey players.
In what the NHL is calling “Pitch ‘n Puck,” six players will play a par 4 with a combination of golf and hockey shots. “Splash Shot” will involve players shooting pucks at targets to dunk their opponents.
The third new event, taking place indoors, is a goaltender shooting competition. The league started going outside for new skills competition ideas last year on the Las Vegas Strip.
Women’s players have been involved in the skills competition for a few years now and will return with Americans Hilary Knight and Alex Carpenter and Canadians Emily Clark, Rebecca Johnston and Sarah Nurse taking part.
Longtime Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo, who was recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, is set to take part in the Breakaway Challenge, one of several mainstays along with the Fastest Skater, Hardest Shot and Accuracy Shooting competitions. The winner of each event earns $30,000 US.
Penguins activate Letang off injured reserve
The Pittsburgh Penguins activated veteran defenceman Kris Letang off injured reserve, clearing the way for him to play Tuesday night against Florida.
The 35-year-old Letang has been out since sustaining a lower-body injury during an overtime loss to Detroit on Dec. 28. He spent time in his native Montreal during his absence following the death of his father earlier this month.
It’s been a difficult season for Letang, who signed a six-year contract extension with the Penguins over the summer and has two goals and 14 assists in 29 games. Letang missed two weeks in November and December after suffering a stroke for the second time in eight years.
Pittsburgh is hoping his return can provide a boost. The Penguins, who have reached the playoffs 16 straight seasons — the longest active postseason streak in major North American team sports — entered Tuesday in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.